Thoughts on Learning
Thoughts on Learning Baguazhang
A Dank & Dusty Basement Production Copyright © 2004 Michael Babin National Library of Canada Cataloguing in Publication: Babin, Michael, 1952– Thoughts on Learning Baguazhang ISBN 0-9735370-0-0 Feel free to download and photocopy this text for your personal use although I, as the author, reserve all rights to this handbook. Please do not plagiarise or edit the contents in any way and include this page for copyright purposes. If you like the text and ﬁnd it useful and get the urge to send me $10 US, in the tradition of shareware, I will be happy to accept it and your comments, positive or otherwise. Send cash or an international postal money order to: Michael Babin 2207 Halifax Drive Ottawa, Ontario K1G 2W4 Canada You can also contact me at email@example.com
February 2004 Photography by Anjela Popova Cover artwork by Kaia Knightingale Graphic design and layout by Vassili Bykov
As an instructor and writer, I try to provide something for everyone. For those who are only happy ﬁnding fault, I have generously included a few errors to meet this need. I also have a sense of humour and refuse to curb that tendency just to appear more scholarly. Bagua is too serious a subject to not take a light-hearted approach to the training. If there were fewer humourless obsessives and fanatics in the world today—there would be no need to study the martial side of Baguazhang or any of the combative arts!
kaia. for allowing me to use the photograph she took.
(http://www. example. Some of those email discussions were reworked for this handbook. Good bagua instructors are rare.ca)
for the original artwork for the
A special note of thanks to Anjela Popova and Vassili Bykov for their work on the layout and design of this book and to Anjela. She can be reached at anjelapopova@hotmail. and encouragement. I would like to thank all those that have studied with me since 1994 but particularly Sean Kelly. Jeff Campbell. in particular. Thanks to Ron Beier and John Kavanagh. for the pleasure I have had from our correspondence in the last few years on bagua and a variety of internal arts subjects.Acknowledgements
A special thanks is due to Erle Montaigue. it has been largely due to his instruction. but so are good students. Michael Babin Ottawa. my colleagues in the WTBA. If in the last decade I have ﬁnally begun to understand what “internal” can mean in the the context of bagua. and Stephane Trepanier for their patience and persistence in travelling along this difﬁcult road with me. Canada February 21. 2004
.com. I would also like to thank Kaia Knightingale front cover.
...................................... A Final Caveat 9
LEARNING HOW TO LEARN BAGUAZHANG .................................. The Broadsword 111........... Frustrations & Rewards 126....96
Thoughts on Lineage 96.......... What is the Role of Pushing? 101.......................... Post-heaven Training: the Linear Form 51... Conclusion 72
BEYOND THE MARTIAL BASICS ......... What Leads: the Hands or the Waist? 100..........................Contents
INTRODUCTION .... What and How You Teach 120................................................ Form Applications 69......................119
Should You Teach? 120........................ “Empty” Force 102............................23
An Introduction to General Qigong Theory 24.......... General Training Tips for Empty-Hand Forms 52........................................................... Whom You Teach 124. ABOUT THE AUTHOR .......... Hammer Hands Applications Set 68............ Common Symptoms Experienced During or After Training 41..... The Long Staff 113..........109
Traditional Weapons Training 110....................................................................... Conclusion 58
FUNDAMENTALS: BASIC MARTIAL TRAINING .... Deer Horn Knives 116...................... The Basic Martial Curriculum 61.............................10
The Learning Process 11....... Conclusion 22
FUNDAMENTALS: STANDING AND MOVING QIGONG ............................. Conclusion 117
TEACHING AND ETHICS ...................1
Video/DVD Instruction 5..................................... Conclusion 131
FINAL WORDS ................. Where you Teach 123...................... Is Bagua a Healing Art or a Martial Art? 99...... General Guidelines for Qigong Practice 38............. “Light Body” Skills 103..... Periodicals & the Internet 7.... Cross-training 105
WEAPONS FORMS & FUNCTION ....................... Key attributes for a student 13....................... Self-defence 85
Details Of Posture 45... Xian Tian & Hou Tian Concepts 50.........59
What Makes Bagua Different in Martial Terms 59.... Observers 125.................................................... Double Sword Form 114..134
........ Learning from Books............... Bagua Standing Qigong Methods 30.. Pre-birth Training: the Circular Form of Jiang Jung Chiao 51.............74
Advanced Martial Training 75....................................... Regulating the Three Treasures 28....132... Conclusion 43
FUNDAMENTALS: THE EMPTY-HAND SOLO FORMS ...................... Sexuality 104...........
like any traditional internal art. walking at a moderate pace is one of the best exercises for the body in terms of strengthening the cardiovascular system without straining the joints the way that running can. Although times have changed and more people than ever before know that such a discipline exists. few have any understanding of how hard it can be to do any traditional version of that art really well. as well as explosive movements. sudden stops and changes of pace and direction. The traditional combative aspect is without sporting elements. as the exercise physiologists are now telling us with new-found fervour. the development of twisting strength and whole body power. swooping and lifting actions. what is Bagua about?… Well. The solo aspect of its circular practice can be strangely beautiful. In addition. He couldn’t understand why I then laughed as hard as I did when he asked his question and looked surprised when I explained that at his age. It was designed to incapacitate or maim in an era in which ﬁrearms were still rare and ﬁghts usually involved more than one attacker. who asked me in wide-eyed innocence if I had wanted to be a bagua teacher when I was his age. Good bagua. it is about whatever each individual instructor brings to it within the broad framework that runs the gamut from being a harshly effective martial system that builds health through hard work and efﬁcient body mechanics to New Age nonsense in which walking in circles while chanting neo-taoist prayers and wearing archaic costumes is the whole of the practice.Introduction
I remember a conversation many years ago with one of my sons. full of graceful twisting movement. both for healing and martial purposes. which can help to strengthen and heal the emotions and the spirit. as well as the use of the mind to create intent. Walking by yourself or with partners can be a very beautiful experience and very demanding physically. The solo aspect of walking the circle while holding various postures or shapes is designed to train the body in different ways—more on that in later chapters—as well as to be meditative. So. I hadn’t even heard the word. then twelve. no matter what its style—and there are many—emphasises balance and relaxation (sung). as a French Canadian in early 1960s Canada. much less known what it meant. It is also important to remember that many of the early tactics were
In the end. it should be obvious. or who can push you around by using tricks of leverage or through your own gullibility. and any of a host of traditional weaponry. I wanted mastery of something that was reputed to be effortless and more than a little esoteric. the knees staying in close proximity one to the other. to distract the opponent and leave his torso more vulnerable or to trap the lower body to make it more difﬁcult for the opponent to evade. control and/or throw the opponent. A teacher is not someone with a great uniform. It took me almost a decade to learn. The energy generated by the twisting of the torso combined with literally throwing your weight around in a controlled manner is expressed through the open hands to strike. if not for the unfortunates whose martial skills didn’t live up to their hopes and expectations. There is really no substitute for this kind of apprenticeship. the weight of the body stays on the back foot when walking in a circle. when done well. The steps are rather tight. It is true that training safely can sometimes make it difﬁcult to weed out the experts
. from a common sense perspective. many of the tactics that come down to us in the forms are designed to lock-up and throw the opponent rather than strike targets that might be protected from a punch or palm strike by leather or metal armour. but more often in a group setting. knife. I soon realised that arts like karate and jujitsu involved a great deal of hard exercise and more than a few bruises. In fact. When I ﬁnally started learning bagua and hsing-i in the early 1990s. the hard way. ideally on a one-to-one basis. as I combined the worst attributes for personal safety—a big mouth and slow feet!) Unfortunately for my dreams of being another Bruce Lee. I ﬁrst came to the martial arts as a young man because I was not particularly athletic and wanted to learn how to defend myself (the latter seemed important.2
THOUGHTS ON LEARNING BAGUAZHANG
designed to be used against opponents who might be wearing some form of body armour and were heavily armed with staff. The smaller student learns to evade attacks and counter-attacks almost simultaneously. at the shins and knees.
FINDING A TEACHER
Like many North Americans. This martial effectiveness was reﬁned by the many early practitioners who earned their living as bodyguards and merchant convoy escorts. when I couldn’t ﬁnd a local teacher of that art in the mid-1970s. I quickly relearned the same lesson—nothing is as easy as it looks to an outsider if done properly. spear. Most defensive and offensive movements are done with the open hand. sword. Similarly. though not necessarily when doing postures within each change. or who can do a seemingly endless variety of forms. that the best way to learn is to study with someone with the personal skill and the ability to transmit how he or she achieved that understanding. Those with no skill literally didn’t survive to pass on what they had practised. only looks effortless. which was good for the art. I picked Taijiquan by default. Bagua seemed to ﬁt the bill but. while the larger person learns to immediately invade the attacker’s space by battering his way through the attacker’s arms. Kicks are normally aimed low. the combative essence of bagua is learning to change spontaneously to deal effectively with the tactics of an opponent. that taiji. and who is willing to do so with you.
from the poseurs. However, even without worrying about the many frauds trying to get your money or your loyalty, it is not easy to deﬁne competence when you are a beginner, as almost everyone is better than you in most ways. However, time and effort bring increased competence, and with a few years of experience (assuming that you are studying something valid to begin with) it should start to be easier to sort out the outright frauds from those who have some level of competence. How does one ﬁnd the real masters in the mob of wannabees and poseurs? It is sadly true that quite often those with the most grandiose claims and visible proﬁles are the ones with the least depth of knowledge. I doubt that the famous P. T. Barnum was thinking of bagua students when he wrote, “There is a sucker born every minute!”—but he would have been correct in many instances. However, the longer and the harder you train at a competent style, the more difﬁcult it can be to ﬁnd better role models, much less exceptional ones. Not many students are willing to travel to workshops given by other experts in other cities, or even just to buy their videos for comparison purposes. This is sometimes due to lack of time and ﬁnancial resources and sometimes to the kind of blind loyalty that drives students to think that it is disrespectful to their teacher to look elsewhere for inspiration. It bears repeating that it is essential for an intermediate level student to make the effort to compare what his or her instructor is doing with the skills and styles of that person’s peers in the the internal arts world. It is easy to be happy as a big ﬁsh in a small pond, and you have to make some effort to compare notes with your peers in the ocean if you are serious about your interest in becoming really competent! Let me offer some suggestions as to how to deﬁne the elusive quality of mastery in your chosen role model(s). These opinions certainly reﬂect my experience with Erle Montaigue, who has been my main bagua teacher, but are equally true of those few other gems that I have experienced over the years. A master is content to offer his or her own thing without being overly defensive about his or her interpretation of the art and without being too critical of those who do things differently. He or she can actually do what they say they can. This may seem simplistic, but there are many supposed experts who “can talk the talk, but cannot do the walk” unless they are demonstrating on their own students. A master has a strong foundation in traditional internal arts and continues to develop in a way that is a reﬂection of his or her foundation. He or she is someone with a normal life and interests (family, vocation, hobbies) whose bagua is an aspect of their life—not their whole existence. A master is someone whose forms and training methods can eventually teach you the same skills. In other words, their understanding is replicable and not just a unique expression of their skill, experience, and personal genius. On the other hand, you often meet teachers hooked up to a respectable lineage who are mediocre in their personal skills or their teaching abilities. Having had a famous master, now long-dead, will not automatically make you anything special. The problem lies in ﬁnding a balance between learning material that has some resemblance in detail and agrees in principle with what you see being demonstrated and taught by other good representatives of that art. Of course, this means that the observer has to have enough experience and skill
THOUGHTS ON LEARNING BAGUAZHANG
to tell the difference between a fraud, a mediocrity, or a genius. So, being a beginner is not easy in any sense of the word. Oh, and the height of mastery is that you don’t act like a master and expect others to treat you like one. Many instructors are willing to be worshipped by their students; others are slowly seduced into thinking of themselves as special because of the adulation they receive. Some instructors tread the fringes of exploitation by misrepresenting just how advanced their skills are—when they are really skilled only in a hard style and teach one bagua form as a sideline, or by forcing their senior students to teach beginner classes for free, or by having grading systems that call for frequent and expensive tests. Sadly, a few have no problem with ethics. They dispense with them altogether and take advantage of their students in a number of reprehensible ways. Here are some examples. A local instructor who taught women’s taiji and self-defence classes to beginners told them that they could learn to project Qi (internal energy) to disable a rapist from a distance. A local self-proclaimed grand master used to tell his students that he could not train with them because his Qi was so strong that he would rip out their muscles if he touched them. It was a little easier in the good old days to know if an instructor had skill, at least on some level. The other local martial arts instructors would visit and offer politely, or otherwise, to beat the ,, ,, out of him. It is difﬁcult to fake competence at the martial aspect of bagua when a stranger is doing his best to punch, humiliate, or throttle you. It is also sadly true that the majority of instructors, whether here or in China, rise to a certain level of competence, or incompetence, and then never change, no matter how many years they continue to practise and teach. It seems to be human nature to believe that you know it all and changing your approach is not easy, especially if you do have some skill and have had good instructors. In general, the fewer people involved, the less chance there is of serious errors being introduced. Think of it like this—would you rather own the master recording of a symphony done with professional equipment or the copy you made from the bootleg copy somebody else made with amateur recording equipment? Even with the highest skill and best intentions, some changes occur every time a form is learned by a teacher and subsequently passed on to his or her disciples for further transmission. To make it worse, modern bagua is burdened with endless bad copies of bad copies. A student learns from a reputable instructor for a few months or years and then, without his or her blessing, goes off to teach students who do the same after an equally inadequate apprenticeship. The original form becomes riddled with errors, or changes are made for all the wrong reasons. Similarly, many recent immigrants from the mainland are now teaching the wu-shu versions of bagua that they learned as a requirement for being a martial arts sports coach at one of the Chinese colleges. While such forms may be a decent introduction to the art, learning and practising one form hardly makes you an expert in a system! A good style should provide the material for a lifetime of research and practice. A mediocre or beginner’s form should be discarded when the time is right to do so. It is in your best interest to make a real effort to search for an original “document” that suits your physique and temperament. Leave the mutilated texts where they belong—on the shelf.
My own main bagua instructor, Erle Montaigue is, in case you haven’t done much reading or exploration on the net, a controversial ﬁgure. Many deride his abilities and internal arts pedigree, although rarely to his face or if they have seen him perform in the ﬂesh. As far as I am concerned, he is the “real thing” in internal martial terms—a middle-aged expert who seems to get better and healthier every time I see him, and whose ﬁghting skills are harshly effective compared to what passes as martial competence in many versions of the modern internal arts. Erle has personally instructed and corrected me in my performance of all of the basic forms and methods of his bagua at annual workshops that I hosted for him in the early 1990s. He authorised me to teach those forms and methods in 1994, and I have been teaching that art at my Studio ever since. I have also done workshops with several other experts in this art and have studied a large variety of bagua instructional videos, books and magazine articles in an effort to understand the art better. As those of you who have been studying with me for some time will know, my understanding of what I practise and teach is constantly changing and evolving. This can be confusing and frustrating for everyone involved, but that is also an important aspect of the process of growth. While I tried to follow the example and teaching of my various teachers, I would be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge that—for good and bad—what I practise and teach has the stamp of my own personality and experience. However, I have done my best to stay true to the spirit and discipline of Baguazhang in terms of my own practice and teaching. It is important to remember that this was an accepted tradition in China—you brought the valid parts of your previous training to your bagua. For example, the Gao Style has been strongly affected by the competence of its early exponents in hsing-i. If you don’t have a competent instructor in your area, then give one of the basic tapes available through Erle, or other teachers, a try. It is possible to learn something at a basic level from a good tape, especially if you develop or have the motivation to eventually get some corrections from him or from another competent bagua instructor.
The saying “the self-taught individual has a fool for an instructor” is often sadly true. However, it is equally true that a beginner without access to a competent teacher can learn something from such instructional tools—if they are geared to beginners. Similarly, studying any good instructor’s videos is a legitimate, if challenging, way to improve your understanding of what you learned from him or her while in class. However, if you have experience in another martial art or modern taiji style, it can be easy to convince yourself that you immediately understand most or all of the bagua basics being taught either in class or on a video. Such arrogance is usually self-defeating. Look at it this way—even though both activities involve knowing how to skate, is a hockey player also automatically qualiﬁed to be a ﬁgure skater, and vice versa? Proper study goes hand in hand with frequent review, especially of the material you think you already know. I have found errors, small and large, in my efforts almost every time I
and that was that until you were accepted into the inner circle of senior students. it is very useful to watch and study as many videos by as many different instructors as possible. When considering the purchase of a particular video. by Western standards. from arrogance or plain laziness. You should also realise that a tape/DVD produced in China. and it is not always possible to identify a bad video until you have wasted both your time and money. This allows you to compare notes on the different ways of interpreting what you are learning. Similarly. hour-long product delivers insights and tactics worthy of a lifetime of study. Unfortunately. for example. try to rent copies of the ones that might interest you before buying. don’t automatically reject the tape produced by an unknown martial artist and assume that the one by the famous expert will be necessarily better—this is not always true. Martial arts supplies stores as well as some New Age bookstores often rent instructional tapes. A lengthy. If you are bewildered by the variety of videos available by mail.
. You can learn a great deal if you study videos in a disciplined manner and then have the opportunity to get corrections or advice from someone who actually can do the forms and methods with some competence. However. not all tapes are created equal. It is important to remember that traditional teaching was often done largely in silence and by example. and needlessly repetitious. The former are really only of use for comparison purposes. It is also sadly true that some instructors will purposefully include errors to the video instruction as a way of ensuring that those who study only the videos will be identiﬁable to those in the know if they ever meet them. many of the instructors making videos are doing so speciﬁcally to augment their incomes and are less concerned about an accurate transmission of what they teach than they would be with their own students. and this is not always appropriate. It is not making mistakes that is problematic—we all make errors with new material—the real error lies in failing to correct the mistakes you know about. Once you have some real knowledge. or if you have learned the material in person and need a record for home study.6
THOUGHTS ON LEARNING BAGUAZHANG
have reviewed material I thought I had understood. it is equally true that the majority of those buying videos or DVDs will watch them once or twice and then relegate them to a shelf without ever trying to practise. highpriced tape may give you little of value while a more modestly priced. hard to follow. is hardly more detailed than a demonstration tape. I tactfully remind you that “your thumb doesn’t go there” when you are demonstrating the Toad in the Hole Posture you just taught yourself from one of Erle’s videos. Such opinions are not always impartial. It is important to remember that even a talented instructor can produce a video that is poorly lit. pay attention to whether it is a demonstration or instructional tape. much less master any of the forms and methods shown. As in all things. but they are a starting point for comparison shopping. Hong Kong. You can also read the reviews that sometimes appear in the martial arts magazines. We tend to judge a product by its cost. You copied the physical movements of the teacher to the best of your ability. A reputable producer or distributor will indicate which it is in the advertisement. It is much harder to fool yourself about your progress if. or Taiwan may be labelled as instructional when it.
as you learn to pay attention. you will ﬁnd that you suddenly see aspects of the material you had never suspected existed when you ﬁrst started. Perceiving. and I make no apologies. These subtleties are impossible to capture through still photography. The essence of bagua resides in movement and not in static postures. please. Similarly. as adults. One last thing.
LEARNING FROM BOOKS. history. For example. you can also go off the track so much that you will undo all the real progress you have made since starting to learn from me. Unfortunately. Having said this. do not borrow one of Erle’s or another instructor’s videos and copy them instead of buying a copy from the source. and theory of the art. However. PERIODICALS & THE INTERNET
To put it simply. I don’t want to be too discouraging. even the most heavily illustrated book is relatively useless for learning the basic forms and training methods. This is for a variety of reasons. I know that many people today don’t think of duplicating cassettes or burning CDs/DVDs as being theft. Just keep in mind that you are stuck with my opinions and guidance. If you have a lot of aptitude. If you are a relative beginner. Of course. it is also true that illustrated books and articles are useful if used as a supplement to personal instruction. Infringing on copyright is illegal and cheapens the value of your efforts to learn. I also continue to be amazed by the numbers of experienced students and instructors that I meet who have no real understanding of the history and theory of bagua and
. but—rationalise it all you want—doing so remains theft of intellectual or artistic property. and I expect you to do as you are told when it comes to the forms and methods that I teach. you are free to buy advanced videos and try to incorporate the physical differences between what I teach you. though. and what Erle is doing on them. You cannot learn a set of movements from a book. You will also ﬁnd that there are a few overt and many subtle differences in the way I teach the forms and methods compared to what is on the videos. you can actually shave some time from your learning curve.INTRODUCTION
It becomes essential to review the tapes you have used at regular intervals even when you have a working competence in the material covered. as opposed to just seeing. what is being demonstrated is even harder (for many years) than trying to copy it physically. Finally. it should also go without saying that it is easier to understand the principles of bagua in your head than in your body or spirit. you will probably go through a stage in which you don’t think you are learning as quickly as you are capable of doing. the written word is indispensable for studying the philosophy. but you can refer to it much more easily than to a video if you forget something from a recent lesson. we have such a cerebral culture that many people confuse understanding something intellectually with understanding it on a gut level as a result of having lived through it. or while you are in the middle of practising. As you develop more skill and over time. as for the intermediate level student—but not beginner—studying instructional videos can be an excellent learning experience. It is not too much of a cynical statement to say that there are more armchair experts in the internal arts than in any other martial systems.
It is available at very reasonable cost and includes all issues published in the seven years it existed in the 1990s. workshops.thewushucentre. and one such translator and distributor is Andrea Falk in Canada.com if your local bookstore doesn’t carry them or doesn’t do special orders:
Baguazhang: Fighting Secrets of the Eight Trigram Palm by Erle Montaigue. visiting the related chatlines and bulletin boards can be very depressing. Kodansha International Ltd. or books. However. and the rest through www. The ﬁrst is available over the Internet through Paladin Press. North Atlantic books. videos. 1999 Pa-kua: Chinese boxing for Fitness & Self-Defense by Robert W. 1967
I would add that there are good translations available in English of the original Chinese texts on the Circular and the Linear Forms that Erle teaches. And they also come and go. How can you claim to be a serious student or instructor in any discipline when you have no interest in the background of what you teach? Would you buy a car from a salesman who said. Erle has had more than his fair share of abuse. heated arguments about minor details of practice or who is legitimate and who is not.taijiworld.plumﬂower. “I don’t know anything about this vehicle. doesn’t it?” I recommend the following books. These texts are useful for comparison purposes as they contain the line drawings that illustrated the original Chinese texts. Paladin Press. but it sure looks nice.amazon.co. Many of the conversations seem less like those between informed adults and more like those you overhear between teenage boys whose hormones are in overdrive.com/ in the United States. but then again.uk/. so have many other legitimate experts. On the Internet. in these electronic forums. Smith. He should take comfort in the knowl-
. Edited by Dan Miller. so I won’t recommend any except Erle’s website http://www. who can be reached at http://www. Yang Jwing Ming & Wu Wen Ching Yang’s Martial Arts Association. For example.com/. It can be ordered through Plum Flower Press http://www. 1994 Ba Gua: Hidden Knowledge in the Taoist Internal Martial Art by John Bracy & Liu Xing Han. all you have to do is type “pa-kua chang” or “baguazhang” in any search engine to get more information than you can handle in an afternoon—or several! It is also true that while there is a huge amount of interesting information on bagua and the internal martial arts available on the Internet.8
THOUGHTS ON LEARNING BAGUAZHANG
know nothing about the state of the art or the current masters presently teaching in North America or the Orient. 1999 Emei Baguazhang: Theory and Applications by Liang Shou Yu. this was an excellent source for any bagua practitioner to research the historical and theoretical side of the art. I would also heartily recommend buying the CD compilation of the defunct publication The Pa-Kua Journal. bagua sites are often self-serving means of advertising classes..
It is also true that there are almost as few good students of any internal discipline as there are good teachers. if you don’t have experience in Erle’s or anyone’s bagua. Consequently. Erle has produced many articles and books on the subject of bagua. and those you argue with or deride are far enough away (or mature enough) so that you don’t have to worry about retribution—the intellectual equivalent of the schoolyard bully who threatens you while surrounded by his buddies. the idlers. well known and obscure alike. it is also not a reference resource that you can easily ignore for researching the history and current affairs of the bagua and internal arts world. but it is also easy to have a board ruined for serious discussion or exchange because the more experienced practitioners stop posting out of disgust. As I said earlier. many others. dedication and your willingness to seek out better instructors. you should develop a real understanding of its principles and core methods as a self-healing and combative system. Much of what follows in the various chapters will be discussions of subjects and training methods I teach in my personal classes. your progress is limited only by your diligence. this is not a how-to-manual. Park Bo Nam. and gossipers are attracted to gather around to trade stories and to make fun of those who are actually out working to support the village or are away ﬁghting to defend it. Liang Shou Yu. have been criticised or insulted through the anonymous safety of the Internet. Any good text on bagua is designed to stimulate thought and provide historical and theoretical background—not teach movement. If you focus on bagua. and I will not try to repeat what he has written on the forms and methods he teaches. thanks for having studied with me—a good instructor needs good students to continue to develop as a practitioner and teacher. I would assume. if one of my current or former bagua students is reading this. A certain amount of arguing or teasing is fun at times. Internet forums are anonymous (if you choose to hide).
A FINAL CAVEAT
By the way. After all. you may ﬁnd it somewhat frustrating and the descriptions vague or hard to understand. practise regularly to the best of your abilities and invest a minimum of ﬁve years with me or another competent instructor. I would suspect that these forums act like the village well did in the Middle Ages in that the inﬁrm. Having said all this. Finally. I am afraid I cannot do much about that. as well as Yang Jwing Ming and. After that.INTRODUCTION
edge that experts like Sam Masich.
and almost all of those available in North America trace their lineage back to him. Today there are many different styles of baguazhang. Tung’s greatness as a founder and instructor lies partly in his ability to adapt the principles and methods of his art to suit the temperament. and this will be reﬂected in the pages of this little manual. I prefer to focus on the more mundane aspects of training in my classes. In any case. What a modern person would call falsifying lineage was a common and accepted practice in China in the old days—as venerable was always better. While the principles of bagua. notably in the monasteries of the Er-mei and Wu-tang mountains. but not exclusively in the Chinese internal arts. what they had learned from Tung. and existing skills of his various students who were all experienced martial artists when they came to him for instruction. there are an often contradictory variety of stories about its history. Born an impoverished and illiterate farmer. he went on to learn a variety of traditional ﬁghting systems and eventually began teaching his distinctive approach while crediting others with its creation. Although he taught relatively few. The style I practise and teach came from
. and even its martial tactics. Indeed. physiques. in their turn. many of those went on to teach and modify. As with the other internal martial arts. Tung likely synthesised his art from a variety of ﬁghting and meditation methods that he had learned over the years. Particularly.Chapter One
Learning how to Learn Baguazhang
The name of this art (also spelled Pa-kua Chang in older English language books) translates as “Eight Trigrams Palm” in reference to the famous eight patterns of broken and solid lines used in the Chinese philosophical and divination text I-Ching. and innovative martial approaches were always suspect. Although methods of walking meditation in circular patterns have been used for religious and meditative practice by various Taoist sects for centuries. are often related directly to the text and various commentaries on this ancient book. historical bagua begins in the mid-1800s with a man named Tung Hai Ch’uan. there is a long list of anonymous Taoist monks or mythical ﬁgures who are supposed to have transmitted the secrets of the various arts in dreams or through texts which mysteriously appeared on cave ﬂoors or in other unlikely places. in the grand tradition of the Chinese martial arts.
It has been heavily inﬂuenced by the hsing-i training of Chang and Chiang and the varied expertise and experiences of those who have followed. or of doing a variety of martial training methods with a partner or with your instructor—although those are certainly essential aspects of the training at any level of competence. and everyone has to start somewhere. I was discussing this with a colleague. keeping the mind on the lower tan-tien. a process of relearning the learning process itself. This is especially true for those adults who have settled into a comfortable lifestyle and lost interest in acquiring new habits. you have to really see what he or she is doing. I am not suggesting that you need to become more Chinese than a native to be able to practise and beneﬁt from your training.” This tendency among those looking for life’s answers in cultures other than their own is often exploited by instructors who have confused wearing Chinese clothing and spouting pseudo-nonsense in a learned manner with developing real internal style skills. when to in-
. you won’t know it is possible to move in such a manner. over the long term. in part. which is in itself the ﬁrst step towards developing any real skill. but he would surely notice the spirit and the principles of what he taught. Done properly and moderately. it is equally true that the average beginner will probably not be able to do more than crudely copy an instructor’s movements whether those are of high or no quality. There is a saying that “education is wasted on the young. At an intermediate level the student learns to reﬁne his or her interpretation of the copied movements until they are automatic enough so that there is some mental energy available to work on the more subtle aspects (i. There is an unfortunate tendency in Western beginners to want or expect exotic and mystical aspects to bagua training. The majority of beginners may look but cannot see what is being transmitted in any detail. Until you can observe the subtle movements and the ﬁne details of your role model’s posture and body mechanics. Unfortunately. For a beginner it is always preferable to have the best possible instruction. good instructors. However.
THE LEARNING PROCESS
Learning any aspect of bagua is not simply a process of memorising physical moves and remembering their sequence. Learning this art is also. His comment was very apt: “Too many of us spent too much time watching the kung-fu television series when growing up.” but it is also very true that the older student is already at a disadvantage compared to a younger beginner in bagua if he or she is grossly out of physical condition or very set in his or her ways. Before you can copy your instructor.LEARNING HOW TO LEARN BAGUAZHANG
Tung Hai Ch’uan to Chang Chao Tung to Chiang Jung Chiao to Ho Ho Choy to Chu King Hung to Erle Montaigue and to me. often in ways that surprise you. subtle or otherwise. as it is easier to create good habits than to correct bad ones once they become ingrained. bagua solo training will transform you and your health. whether in China or North America. I am not sure that Tung would recognise the details of what we do if he were to come back from the grave.e.. are almost as rare as good students. However.
it is also important to remember there are different ways to write a sentence that still provide the same information. content to surround themselves with students whose only talents lie in ﬂattery or hero worship. stick with him or her until you have decided that bagua is not for you. Once you meet a qualiﬁed and compatible instructor. It is not so appropriate today. and have no experience at rough and tumble. This. another culture. Whether for martial or health purposes.
. I must add. It is easy for the many bogus instructors to fool their students if the latter have never been hit. the Chinese were on the right track with the Confucian concept of loyalty which. and you deserved to displace the old dynasty. and hang around their front door day and night until accepted as a student. Sadly. however. shower him or her with presents. I have always valued advice I overheard Sam Masich. In this regard. especially if you ﬁnd it more difﬁcult than you had imagined. except lack of practice!” For those who go the distance. I am not saying that the average student of today should grovel before a prospective instructor. It is easy to give up if you feel that you have no aptitude for what you are studying. should not be a feudal willingness to suspend your ethics or misbeliefs and do what you are told. “You can correct almost anything. They challenge him or her constructively. In fact. loyalty is a two-way street. I have seen and experienced many different ways to interpret baguazhang. that this is not true for those who wish to learn the self-defence aspects of this discipline. though extremely strict and hierarchical. martial loyalty should imply an honest and mutual exchange and the willingness on your part to trust the instructor’s motives and skills without losing sight of the fact that he or she is human. particularly for beginners. some teachers become egoists. as a martial artist. Few are completely without value.12
hale and exhale.). Both the instructor and the student must contribute to the relationship if it is to survive and help both to evolve as people and martial artists. at least for the ﬁrst few years. It is very true that. ensuring that he or she continues to evolve as a teacher. it is essential to have competent instruction from the start. had a safety valve—if you successfully revolted against the Emperor. a process which needs a few months of class time at the very least. one of Canada’s ﬁnest modern internal arts instructors. the student who wishes to learn deeply needs the instructor more than the latter needs students. in the end. you owe your instructor loyalty. Some are ﬂawed. and as a person. However. Sam’s comment was. give someone at a week-long training camp of his that I attended in 1990. you should always wait a little longer—you may discover that your own arrogance had made the forms and methods seem easier than they really were. you must learn to be patient with your own progress without becoming too complacent about it. it was obvious that Heaven was on your side. but. Such may have been appropriate in another time. You can rationalise betrayal as with any form of human behaviour. Perhaps. particularly if you have never had any decent martial training in the past. Good students are essential to an instructor. By the way. Assuming that you stay for several years. in a ﬁght. etc. Rather. no matter what. When you are learning skills you might have to use to defend yourself or your loved ones from real aggression. though. learn everything you can from that individual before trying to ﬁnd the next teacher.
and ﬁst. New Age versions of bagua to the contrary. the spine and hips become as important in striking as the shoulder. and connect it into a whole body usage. always having more weight on one leg than the other is hard work for the muscles and ligaments of the legs and hips. In the long run. Balance is also about redeﬁning how you interpret relaxation. but for the ﬁrst months?… As well as understanding how important it is to avoid being double-weighted. your objective is not to eliminate muscle usage. elbow. but to loosen. for the state of the art. but has become much less so than in the beginning. balance improves. Similarly. The spine must learn to lengthen and compress subtly to aid in powering the movements. consequently.LEARNING HOW TO LEARN BAGUAZHANG
KEY ATTRIBUTES FOR A STUDENT
Wanting to learn any or all aspects of bagua requires hard work and particular physical. However. and pays less and less conscious attention to its specific details. For example. rather than both legs is the beginning of balance in physical terms. it is the ability to move slowly and smoothly or quickly with a broken rhythm without being double-weighted. It is difﬁcult to reduce any aspect of this discipline to a few crucial items. balance is most often interpreted as being purely physical and technical. Unfortunately. Learning to be Balanced Balance has many interpretations.
. However. balance is eventually achieved by relearning how to be upright and connected. but the following three are certainly right up there in their relevance to your training. not straight and stiff. as well as the Conceptor Vessel that goes down the centreline of the front of the torso to the lower tan-tien. It is not easy to learn to safely use the Triangle Stance that is so common in our discipline. At ﬁrst. each form. To put it simply. the intermediate level practitioner must also usually relearn how to stand and move. strength and mobility and. as our hips tend to lose some of their natural range of motion even when we are relatively ﬁt. The mental visualisation of using the palm is as important as the physical movements that accompany it. always having your body weight supported by one. the frequent toe-in and toe-out movements that are characteristic of bagua are also difﬁcult to adjust to. it seems relatively simple to avoid having an equal distribution of weight on both legs. Progress in the technical performance of form is still important. Eventually. being balanced is not simply a question of how well you can move through a variety of complicated physical manoeuvres. It is being able to stand as still as a post for several minutes even when supporting yourself on one leg. align. the practitioner seems to move effortlessly through each posture. mental and emotional attributes. For the beginner. This allows for a greater ease of Qi movement along the Governing Vessel that goes up the spine in the back. as well as willingness to work at both aspects of bagua—self-healing and self-defence—so that neither predominates in your training and daily life.
after the novelty wears off. sense of humour. It is not enough to imagine that you can stand effortlessly on one leg. that the location of the classes is so far from home or work that commuting is exhausting. and body. or your husband may not understand your sudden desire to attend classes three times a week and worry that it will interfere with his routine. Balance requires that you persevere.14
Few become master practitioners. mind. The road to hell is paved with good intentions. and not let one predominate. This is not to say that the ability to balance yourself on one leg or the technical beauty of your movements are unimportant. but ﬁnd. In addition. and that is a rich. but such minor losses of balance are smoothed over and have no bearing on their innate ability. It is a sad reﬂection of human nature that most students seem to ﬁnd a grimly obsessive attitude and facial expression necessary to feel as if they are learning something of value. The essence of the art is to unify and co-ordinate the spirit. as few of us are reclusive monks living in
. looseness. and body mechanics necessary to do so. but it will cause problems if you are not. training sporadically as the mood strikes you. This is partly due to emotional maturity and also because they are able to recover so smoothly from a loss of balance that the mistake is difﬁcult for the average observer to see. Sometimes they make mistakes or stumble. Studying bagua can mean doing what you think is right for you even if others don’t immediately understand or support you. as much because you enjoy the classes and solo practice. If you go too far in the other direction. However. the best instructors I have had all shared one trait. Few adults can train with the energy of adolescence. your bagua training becomes play of the highest order. if often eccentric. Nor is it always possible to devote as much time as you would wish to your training—whether it is in class or on your own. family responsibilities to accommodate your training needs. as because you are determined to improve yourself. Being balanced also implies that you will shufﬂe your educational. By contrast. while doing their forms with no technical precision or ability. However. sacriﬁcing family and friends. In contrast to the technical perfectionists are the New Age bagua players who are content to go through the motions. Their movements seem as natural as taking a walk or going up a ﬂight of stairs are for most of us. education or career nor being lackadaisical. With the right attitude. and move with the ease of an animal. your girlfriend may not understand why her dinner party seems less important than your scheduled workshop. You may plan to go to the evening class after supper on a regular basis. In general. Your body has to have acquired the strength. Are you balanced in how seriously you take your training—neither training obsessively day and night. such practitioners usually are not particularly concerned over how they look to observers. and your leisure time is usually curtailed to some degree when you are serious about your training. the beginner or pseudo-master is so concerned with his or her technical prowess that this preoccupation becomes a source of imbalance and tension that can diminish the quality of his or her practice. as if in a trance. work. This may be ﬁne if you are single. For example. there is always a price to pay for everything in life. you may develop an obsession with internal development that leads to other problems.
this can help us to understand that change is not necessarily our enemy—just another aspect of both our bagua practice and daily life. For example. rhythmic exercise. a by-product of chemical energy production in the muscles. regularity and moderation in your personal practice outside of class time are particularly essential in the ﬁrst few years. the more they remain the same. good instruction. improves circulation and avoids or minimises the pain and fatigue caused by muscle tension. that this can eventually undo chronic tension. if you don’t modify a tactic that normally works on
. we also have to remember the need for compromise. It is also true. this encourages the Qi to ﬂow in an unimpeded manner throughout the body. with time. It doesn’t if that is all you have ever practised! To reap the maximum beneﬁt from your daily practice it is essential to traine in all aspects of the art—not just the ones you ﬁnd easy or enjoy the most. And. It accomplishes this primarily by dispersing accumulations of lactic acid.” a trite. but that the practice is initially anything but relaxing! The muscle tone and efﬁcient body mechanics required in bagua are relaxing in the sense that real relaxation is related to creating postural integrity which encourages deep abdominal breathing. reputed to be. perseverance. Erle Montaigue has often said that “you should train to live. no matter what your age. incorrectly. and loosens and stretches the body’s connective and muscular tissue. However. While it is all too easy to move mechanically through the movements of form when doing solo practice.LEARNING HOW TO LEARN BAGUAZHANG
a mountain cave. Learning to Relax Some of the people who enquire about classes at my Studio want to know if bagua is as relaxing as taijiquan is. In traditional terms. not live to train. Learning to be Adaptable “The more things change. by the alternate contraction and relaxation of muscles. They seem to ﬁnd it problematic when I tell them that bagua is about stretching and lengthening. it is more likely that the ﬁrst few months of classes will serve only to elevate the stress levels of the average beginner as he or she discovers that learning qigong or the fundamentals of form is not as effortless as it looks. yet accurate saying that certainly describes the human reluctance to change even when we know it is in our best interest.” This is true. that doing the form provides a weight-bearing exercise that can slow or prevent osteoporosis. It is easy to convince yourself that walking the circle while holding the Eight Mother Palms or doing the circular form everyday will somehow bring effortless power and great self-healing beneﬁts. In Western medical terms. Even with adequate and sincere instruction a novice is more likely to leave class tense and frustrated if he or she is unhealthy or unused to regular physical activity. it is much harder to ignore the imperatives of changing your tactics when working with a partner. particularly for older students. especially for maintaining healthy relationships. Patience. Being balanced also implies that you will practise both solo and two-person exercises.
and put them in writing. on a personal level. you quickly learn that the ability to adapt spontaneously to changing circumstances is as difﬁcult as it is essential. The mare ran away one night. There may be weeks that you cannot train because of professional or work commitments. one element at a time.16
someone at your own level of competence when practising with the instructor or a senior student. There may be minor or serious injuries that require a period of rest and rehabilitation. no matter what their age. and spontaneous on a physical level is bound to have similar ramiﬁcations for your emotional state. The following strategies may help you make the most of your training and avoid injury: • Decide what you want from your training. as futile as trying to master techniques that cover every possible martial situation. Mastering a difﬁcult technique or having a sudden insight into some aspect of your training should be acknowledged with pride. This was seen as a curse until the government ofﬁcials conscripted all the able-bodied young men and sent them off to war. to quote the late musician and cultural icon John Lennon: “Life is what happens while you are making plans. until the spirited new animal promptly threw its inexperienced young rider. even on those days that you don’t train. and vice versa. This seemed a blessing. The son was the only one allowed to remain at home while the other young men were marched away. which seemed a disaster for the family until she came back with a stallion that had followed it home. • Don’t be too humble. not just the placid old mare that his family used to pull their plough. Long-term moderate effort is the ultimate key to being able to train for the rest of your life. who was left with a permanently lame leg. and vice versa. most of us will only achieve a deeper understanding of ourselves and bagua. Break these down into smaller ones and assign them deadlines. • Keep a daily training diary.” Trying to prepare for the future is. most never to be seen again! Learning to deal with change is a complex process. becoming relaxed. (Studying the reasons why you didn’t practise on a given day may help you determine patterns and counterproductive habits. Keep your skills and accomplishments in perspective and identify those areas in your training which still need work and can be realistically improved. centred. will have one intuitive breakthrough after another in their training. Consider the old Chinese parable of the peasant whose only son wanted a young spirited horse to ride. Setting Realistic Goals A minority of gifted students. over the years. What seems beneﬁcial at ﬁrst can prove to have been a curse. and even without trying to make it happen. set progressive and realistic goals.) • Expect setbacks. Similarly. • Don’t be too proud. in some ways. However.
the obsessive younger student may quickly develop martial skills but destroy his emotional and spiritual sense of balance. time constraints. physical ability. high-intensity activity.LEARNING HOW TO LEARN BAGUAZHANG
Duration & Frequency of Training
The length of each of your training sessions and their frequency in your schedule are dependent on a number of variables: your own level of interest. especially if your interest goes beyond doing this discipline as more than a set of physical movements. The martial skills cannot be gained from training on an irregular basis unless you are already a very experienced martial artist or have a great deal of aptitude. For slower or steadier exercise. As to young and middle-aged adults. People are more inclined to skip scheduled exercise in the mid to late afternoon because of fatigue or busy schedules. Few adults with families or occupations can match such training regimes. especially those with hard style martial experience. may have to give up much of what they have already learned to make real progress and are often reluctant to do so. It is certainly true that few modern teachers. it is hard to believe that anyone today is capable of such intensity. Conversely. Even young adults. You will feel stronger. much less their students. perform more skilfully and get more out of your workout. Few fall in this happy category! Age-Related Issues I have not had any success teaching children. When reading about the master who would routinely practise walking the circle and forms under a large table so that he was forced to use and maintain very low stances. The self-healing and defence skills of baguazhang are gained gradually through moderate and balanced training. I ﬁnd it difﬁcult to be patient with the modern practitioners who obviously believe that doing a modern wu-shu variation of the Circular Form once a day somehow makes them superior in every way to someone who trains regularly and intensively in one of the external martial arts. An internal martial art is difﬁcult to cultivate through either obsessive or lackadaisical training. It is very difﬁcult for average students to learn the interactive side unless they come to a group or private class two to three times per week for several years. the lackadaisical student trains only when the mood takes him or her and then overinﬂates the value of such training. like fast or fast/slow forms that require short bursts of energy are best done late in the day. and so on. Several times over the years of teaching I have shocked would-be students who had done indifferent bagua elsewhere by
. In this way. many come to bagua expecting that it is effortless right from the start because you are just walking in a circle. But it remains true that regular practice is essential to making progress. However. Modern research has shown that the traditionalists were on the right track about the morning and evening being the best times to practise. practise with the intensity that the old masters are reputed to have brought to their training. you will reap the same beneﬁts whether you practise early or late in the day. or teenagers for that matter. the older obsessive student may train too hard initially and burn himself out on a physical or emotional level.
but there is no legitimate age-related reason to stop completely. and most of the best instructors I have met in a variety of martial arts are middle-aged. these circumstances avoid issues that often come up in Western classes. brothers or husbands if they were lucky enough to have one who was also an instructor. it is difﬁcult to begin bagua if you have an acute or chronic medical condition affecting your back or knees. only possible if you practise a style that uses sound body mechanics. However. Gender-Related Issues In the good old days in China. in the long run. and it will be more difﬁcult to safely resume your practice. The conclusion was usually: “That’s a lot harder to do than what I’m used to. Older martial artists should not ignore the realities of an aging body and try to exceed their capabilities or rush their progress. Women learned only from their fathers. Similarly. you may ﬁnd it very difﬁcult to restrain yourself when everyone else around you is moving at high speed. it is also important to practise on a continuous basis. he or she will have to be prepared to train more carefully and moderately than the younger students in the class.18
encouraging them to walk properly. If you are practising intensively. cause those joints to self-destruct when you hit 50. men tend to peak in their late teens and early twenties. Such continuity is. The older beginner must come to terms with his or her strengths and limitations and consider what personal and lifestyle changes will be necessary to train safely. The average older internal practitioner may have to modify the intensity of each session. Stop all activity and training for a few months when you are past 50.g. Human nature being what it is. Maturity and experience are assets that cannot be replaced.. While gender restricted classes are sexist in modern Western terms. but rarely the combative aspects of the art and rarely in a mixed class. in government-run martial arts colleges on the Mainland. for example. Aside from using proper body mechanics in your training. but it looks so easy!” Athletically. and it can be a shock to realise that you are not as young as you once were. No matter what your relative age. of course. you may have to go on a diet and improve your ﬁtness levels before beginning the martial classes and pace yourself once you have begun to train. those looking for new romantic or
. In more recent years. You should consult with a physician before beginning to train in the interactive aspects. especially if you are over 35 and unused to physical activity. Heart and circulatory conditions are often without symptoms until the moment you have a heart attack or stroke during a warm-up. with proper stretching and progressive training any ability can be gained to a surprising extent even by the not-so-young beginner. or substitute a slower pace for a fast. e. Of course. as well as engaging in other demanding physical activities. women experts teach form and qigong to women. Allowing your knees to rotate out of alignment may go unnoticed when you are a ﬁt 25-year-old but. there wasn’t a problem caused by mixed gender classes—as there weren’t any. I recommend taking one day off every week from your training. not young adults. or practise a different form as he or she gets older. especially if you are practising vigorous forms.
While it is not the only solution. it is difﬁcult to supervise a large group class as to what is too much or is a sexual contact. It is certainly in the best interests of each instructor. sexual dominance issues aside. however. the late Ch’eng Man Ch’ing is reported to have often exhorted his students to make progress by “investing in loss. you mustn’t carry it too far the other way either. For example. the easiest
. Practitioners must also be prepared to acknowledge that they may well enjoy the intimate contact. as this may eliminate some problems but create new ones. this may mean limiting the techniques practised in a group setting where supervision is spotty due to numbers. it is not easy to avoid diluting the martial content of bagua as the easiest way of avoiding controversy. in terms of developing self-defence skills. In addition. I ﬁnd that very few women want to wear them in the same way that most male students ignore the common sense of wearing an athletic support and protective cup because they are not comfortable to train in. and those men who feel that they can fondle female students under the pretence of having accidentally made contact during the various two-person exercises. Certainly. to outline to his or her students what is and is not appropriate when practising in a mixed environment. However. both sexes must be prepared for the intimacy of many of the twoperson training methods and accidental contact with certain tender parts of each other’s anatomy. enjoy it very much indeed. I don’t think that gender restricted classes are a valid solution. or ensuring that women work only with women and men only with men. To make this whole issue more complicated.” This can be understood in a variety of ways depending on your experience with the internal arts.LEARNING HOW TO LEARN BAGUAZHANG
sexual partners more than quality instruction. some people are not comfortable with being touched by members of the same sex or. As in most aspects of trying to adapt traditional methods to modern needs. and enjoying the feel of another person’s body as you practise is part of the pleasure of training—like dancing with a good partner. Human beings are sensual and tactile by nature. At least for some class time. Although to be frank. It is also just as liable to lead to something a little more intimately mundane. One person may be completely unaware of contact that might make another extremely uncomfortable. aggressors are often compensating for cowardice by looking for smaller victims. It doesn’t mean that you are debauched to feel this way. women should practise with men to develop skills that might work against men. it is an option for a female student to get into the habit of wearing one of the sparring bras that have plastic cups. women are usually going to be at risk from a larger man as. Instructors must be willing to be ﬂexible. In the end. arousal (as in the emotional and physical intimacy that can develop when training with a partner of the opposite sex) does increase the production of sexual hormones which can be reﬁned through your training into martial or self-healing Qi. conversely. from both a liability and ethical point of view. In regards to the latter. Investing In Loss The famous taijiquan instructor. However.
come up with an excuse for why you failed. Then it learns to prop itself up on its forearms. investing in loss is hard enough in solo work. The result is normally counterproductive for those practitioners’ learning—especially if they don’t have the constructive criticism of a live instructor on a regular basis. and I could stand to get back to basics. or pushing you vigorously into a wall. “Right. Sometimes they cannot see the problems. or lose your temper and escalate the training to the level of “Oh. your partner knocks you off balance and your ﬁrst reply is “No. but it gets harder still when someone is repeatedly beating their way through your defences.20
way is to learn from your mistakes. it is easy (when you imagine that you have relevant experience) to think. then to look for someone else to blame. Then it learns to stand unaided. the hardest lesson of all. but the majority progress by learning in stages. Let me put it simply: a baby learns to turn over on its own.
. From a teacher’s perspective it can be amusing to watch two students practising together if both of them tend to be defensive by nature. quite often they refuse to! Now. This is one of the few areas in which I would offer a gentle criticism of Erle’s approach to making such a wide variety of video material available. Skipping Stages How do you know if you are skipping stages that might later prove to have had essential lessons to be digested? After all. enough of this intermediate stuff—as a genius I can leap from the ﬁrst step to the highest.” I know from bitter experience that every time I have convinced myself that I was ﬁnally an expert. and. Too much of it is aimed at the intermediate and advanced level practitioners. particularly when it applies to the various two-person drills where it is important to learn to evade as much as block your partner’s attacks. but it is amazing how many students have trouble identifying their problem areas. it is almost impossible to rationalise your weaknesses—you either learn from them. Then the parents learn to hide all the breakables and dangerous objects. For example. Then it learns to walk.… A few genius babies can skip a few steps to physical independence. I have discovered the hard way that something was still missing. Then it learns to stand holding onto the parent’s hands. the ﬁrst step is to recognise that there are things you need to work on in yourself that are hindering your progress. Seems like common sense. The temptation is ﬁrst to refuse to acknowledge that you have made a mistake. not enough at the beginner. yeah! Take this!” All are counterproductive. Then it learns to sit up. perhaps. I wasn’t ready!” To correct such tendencies. In this case. For anyone who has tried to understand any aspect of bagua this is. a new student (no matter how much unrelated martial arts experience he or she may have) needs to focus on precision and the basics of bagua posture and body movement. In the beginning. the next reaction is often “My partner used too much force!” and the last bit of ego defense is likely to be “Well. Then it learns to run. Then it learns to crawl on all fours. Instead. punching you. refuse to return to that kind of training environment. beginners tend to buy the advanced tapes and teach themselves the form shown at that level. ﬁnally. I didn’t move my feet!” When you ﬁnally admit that you did lose your balance.
Too many martial artists are content to take endless workshops just to get a photo with. even if they continue to practise their old martial disciplines. Most beneﬁt from experiencing it although many of those who bother also get stuck at that level. it is more fruitful in the beginning to spend most of your time analysing how bagua is different from what you already know. Cross-Training for the Relative Beginner I have met several karate and shaolin instructors who practise and teach bagua as a proﬁtable sideline. and has someone to continue training with back at home over the following months and years. or idiot. and with even greater maturity comes the realisation that a mountain is just a mountain. And. Some of what you will be exposed to are simply variations of other valid interpretations and can be ignored. anyway)—having a beginner who is experienced martially or has no such experience.LEARNING HOW TO LEARN BAGUAZHANG
Perhaps. If you continue to enjoy and practise the other arts as you learned them. however. there is great truth to that old Buddhist and martial arts adage that “In the beginning a mountain is just a mountain. In many ways. Sadly. not to mention Goju Karate. and this can be very hard on the ego if you have gotten used to thinking of yourself as an experienced practitioner. It is difﬁcult to say which is better (in my experience. to maximise that learning experience. workshops are largely a waste of time in terms of an individual being able to beneﬁt much unless he or she already has considerable skill and experience and takes an equally talented partner to train with during the workshop. rather than making assumptions about the similarities. and it is never an easy task on any level. Hung Gar. or a few memories of. Sometimes. Human nature is such that the average student usually resists and resents this need to start over. the guest instructor—not to mention the certiﬁcates and t-shirts that they hand out at North American workshops. Those with hard style experience can be either the best or the worst of students. you will need to start from scratch. those students who have done yoga or meditation training of one kind or another or any of the New Age body/mind disciplines may spend too much time trying to compare what they are learning to what they already know (or think they know). I have been faced with such a need several times. it is unlikely that you will have the time or aptitude to do bagua the way it should be done as a martial art.” I suppose the occasional genius. and this is equally true of those who come to class with a clean slate. or Wing-Chun. can skip that middle stage.
. their internal arts are anything but! Similarly. There is a world of difference between baguazhang and taijiquan. Having said that. With study you realise how complex that seemingly inert structure is. in the vast majority of cases. While I don’t insist that you immediately stop training in any discipline or martial hard style in order to learn bagua from me. the average hard stylist may derive considerable health beneﬁts from practising bagua qigong alone. you will eventually reach a point when you must choose the path that best suits you. It is equally true that you may have difﬁculty relating to the differences between what I teach and what you may have learned from other bagua instructors.
and you will reap the interest when you are old!
.” In other words. some emphasise the self-defence stuff.22
While some teachers and styles are better than others. or ﬁll his pockets with money. My one caveat is that the teacher should have what one of my instructors told me his teacher had called (in broken English) “a good heart for the people. each according to his or her capacity. there is an interesting Chinese expression which states that learning bagua or any internal art is like putting money in the bank—make a small deposit every day. there are many different valid approaches to bagua: some emphasise the health aspect. Speaking of money. providing you practise enough to make progress and enjoy the practice enough to continue to do so. the teaching should beneﬁt the students on some level. As long as teachers have skill and bring some of that skill to their teaching. you will beneﬁt. and not just stroke the ego of the teacher. don’t make too many withdrawals. and some emphasise the competitive aspect of the art.
feelings of warmth. but the ﬁnal product shines beautifully and has much more use in daily life. reﬁne its quality and balance its circulation. long term qigong training can change the body. various methods can also be used to ensure the production of a normal amount of Qi. Accomplishing this will also calm. All three are manifestations of the same thing. the heat in an electrical wire is a by-product of the ﬂow of electricity through copper or aluminium and is not the electricity itself. Practised with competence and over the long-term.
. relaxing and strengthening the body. as well as circulate it throughout the body for a variety of purposes. Fortunately. tingling of the skin. whether done as part of an internal martial system or solely as a health practice. Without doubt. and its energy system. any valid system of qigong. is said to be good for the Qi. like water. and having a balance of Yin and Yang energies throughout the the body. emotions. and spirit in a way that can be likened to reﬁning crude ore into iron ingots and eventually. In the same way. However. lumps dug from the earth. and maintain an optimal amount of internal energy. but it was important not to confuse the symptoms of the ﬂow of intrinsic energy with Qi itself. I answered that this. imbalances will often clear up on their own. and other sensory phenomena was a common manifestation of such training. Qi. as well as muscular tension.Chapter Two
Fundamentals: Standing and Moving Qigong
Practising Qigong (literally translated as “energy” or “work done with skill”) is about loosening. along with trembling. with further skill and effort. strengthen. and unify your mind and spirit. always seeks to balance itself. restoring efﬁcient body mechanics. into high-grade steel. I once had an e-mail message from someone who wanted to know if it was Qi he was feeling when he experienced a magnetic repulsion and attraction in his hands doing qigong. can impede or block the smooth and balanced ﬂow of Qi within the body and affect the health in various ways. Any physical or emotional injuries.
For whatever reasons. relatively inert and useless. and is fuelled. or deﬁcient in certain parts of the body. complex and disputed subject. get too little sleep. work in an environment that stiﬂes your body and spirit. Both are the same substance in essence. disease can more easily occur. Many of us think we want to get rid of our bad habits. any physical ailment must affect the emotions and spirit. yet counteract all this by doing the Circular Form or standing and moving qigong. Some are impossible to analyse empirically. When you are in good health. While you don’t have to be an expert in qigong or Chinese medical theory to beneﬁt from your bagua training.24
The process of reﬁning makes the substance stronger and more ﬂexible as a lump of iron ore. and spirit are all interdependent. health. becomes a sharp and ﬂexible high-carbon stainless steel kitchen knife. Some make sense from a traditional Chinese perspective. If your Qi is blocked. It is unrealistic to believe that you can continue to smoke. One key concept in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) is your body. An ailment of the mind will be reﬂected in the body. is also seen in the interpretation given to the functions of the organs. including skin surface. a process that seems to have stopped in many people. by a general overhaul in your lifestyle. and connective tissues. it can certainly help if you understand some of the key concepts. My own gut feeling is that deep relaxation and quiet attentiveness eventually encourages both hormonal and attitudinal shifts in the body. and age at your conception. and learning to quiet the mind creates a powerful tool for change. the muscles. at
. taking chronic tension out of the spine. no matter how seemingly small or insigniﬁcant. you can positively affect the quality of the Acquired Qi that you create within yourself to. your Qi is strong and abundant and ﬂows smoothly to all parts of the body. Radical change can mean the loss of attitudes or habits that deﬁne us as we are. It can also mean the loss of relationships as people react badly or uneasily to how we are changing. and some make sence from a Western logical perspective.
AN INTRODUCTION TO GENERAL QIGONG THEORY
The following is a simplistic overview of a fascinating. Our basic. and its quality is ﬁxed and dependent on their heredity. but one is the product of time and effort. It is impossible to change the quantity or quality of this Qi through qigong. This attitude. in which you change your lifestyle and attitudes contributes to the process of maturing. but then discover that the process of change is frightening and disorienting. Innate or Original. Qi is inherited from our parents. called Holistic in the West.… This process also fuels. But through your training you may awaken to understanding that what you are doing is harming you. Similarly. They affect one another at all levels. mind. And now for the bad news. the fascia. However. Every way. endure or provoke abusive relationships. Qigong makes this reﬁnement happen in a number of ways. eat “garbage.” abuse alcohol or drugs.
This is the only horizontal “power line” in the body. Internally. Externally. Practising qigong of any kind should be seen as one of the mechanisms of living a healthy lifestyle. Although new points are constantly being discovered. One of the main aspects of Qi—Weiqi/Protective Qi—is to act like an invisible buffer against infection and “bad Qi” entering the body. goes up the spine and over the top of the head to the upper palate. is a major player in the immune system. The latter are storage reservoirs and major conduits for internal energy. in turn. the main points on these “power lines” have been charted for thousands of years. Qi circulates through twelve main (ching) and eight extra meridians (mei) close to the surface of the skin.
Yin and Yang is a way of expressing this idea of balance and constantly changing state of equilibrium. Conversely. or for Qi prematurely wasted through poor living habits. modern medicine tells us. especially to the bone marrow—which. nourishing food and drink. there are also numerous minor channels (lou) which. and the three Yin meridians from the foot to the abdomen and chest. In addition to the twelve meridians and the eight vessels. In the upper (or Yang) part of the body the three Yin meridians run from the chest to the hand. like a rope that ties together all the others that run vertically. The twelve meridians are said to consist of six pairs. good thoughts. Three of the extra meridians are particularly important: • The Governing Vessel (du mei) starts at the bottom of the torso. each component having a Yin and Yang relationships. pain along the heart channel. According to TCM. carry Qi to the skin surface and to every cell of the body. can indicate a heart problem. stimulate. This is said to massage. compensate for weak Innate Qi. and strengthen this crucial vessel and all the organs in the middle of the torso. The former are each connected to major organs or regulate organic processes. • The Girdle Vessel (dai mei) runs around the waist from the area of the kidneys in the back to the navel. For example.STANDING AND MOVING QIGONG
least partially. Good health depends largely on a smooth ﬂow of Qi along the channels. each channel connects with the skin at speciﬁc hollows or the acupuncture points. requires the body and mind to be in harmony. • The Conceptor Vessel (ren mei) begins at the tip of the tongue and runs down the centre of the front of the body to the bottom of the torso. avoiding or minimising excessive behaviour. like capillaries in the circulatory system. Imbalance in a channel can manifest itself in its related organ and vice versa. healthy living habits (clean environment. one of the shortest. open. each is connected to and named after one of the main organs of the body. maintaining supportive relationships) are essential for making real progress through your qigong training.
. In the lower (or Yin) part of the body the three Yang meridians extend from the head to the foot. and the three Yang meridians from the hand to the head. from the tip of the inside edge of the little ﬁnger along the inside of the arm to the armpit. This. This is why there are many qigong exercises designed to twist the waist.
and masculinity. These broad categories can be approached from a Taoist or Buddhist. has caused the pain or weakness you are experiencing in your legs. Tibetan. In recent years in China there has been a tendency to make qigong medicine. downwardness. the Qi circulatory system supplies energy to every cell of the body. Humans seem very fond of analysis and categorisation and. Fortunately. or lack thereof. The classical analogy compares Qi to water which always seeks to ﬂow into and ﬁll the low from the high. Modern experts tend to compare Qi to electricity in terms of its quality and function. Any physical or emotional injuries or muscular tension. activity. and many methods cannot be neatly pegged into only one category. and practice more scientiﬁc from a Western perspective and to divorce it completely from any association with the religious roots of the art. passivity. can impede or block the smooth and balanced ﬂow of Qi within the body and affect the health in various ways. vigour. stimulation. When they don’t. there is some crossover.26
The written character for Yin originally represented the shady side of a slope. If your Qi is in harmony. Yang (Traditional Chinese) Everything has both Yin and Yang qualities. but Qi is no more deﬁnable in objective terms than any other subjective aspect of life. It is associated with qualities such as heat. and if their vitality. quiet. movement. and femininity. increase. It is the interaction between these two forces that creates Qi. theory. there are several major categories of Traditional Chinese Qigong: self-healing. upwardness. light. For example. medical and spiritual. both Yin and Yang are in balance. There has also been a concurrent boom in the amount of qigong practices available to the Chinese community and. as a result. and the term is associated with such qualities as cold. darkness. Yang originated as the character for the sunny side of the slope. Any of these categories can be approached through passive or active methods. blockages and imbalances will often clear up on their own as Qi always seeks to balance itself. This is as good an analogy as any for modern students. and some forms of moving qigong involve moving the legs but limit movement in the arms and torso. Like the blood circulatory system. research. If the pain is accompanied by related symptoms such as a lack of willpower and mental acuity this points to an imbalance of energy in the kidney and/or its meridian.
Yin. There has been much blending over the centuries. martial. you go to a qigong doctor for advice or treatment. through
. Some methods of passive qigong do involve slow movements of parts of the body. a Chinese doctor will try to discover whether or not your kidneys are processing liquid wastes as they should. responsiveness. But. or even Muslim perspective. excitement. decrease.
as one can see from the following comments of different experts. no matter how you approach it. it would seem to me that cultivating internal energy. Qigong is not a question of trying to master or control yourself. the other group was told that they were also being treated with the same appropriate points. equally respected and skilled. the ultimate master. or you will harm yourself. However. Despite studies of this nature. or that of others. Others. it is important to keep an open mind. it is essential for the serious bagua student to research this subject and decide what he or she feels and what to incorporate in his or her training. is difﬁcult enough. they are hardly unanimous in their opinions: “Do any method correctly and Qi will be manifested without effort. In addition. I remember watching a television documentary a few years ago in which two groups of volunteers were given acupuncture treatment. It is sad that you frequently come across such approaches. They roam
. or your energy. to the Western public. but the needles were actually inserted randomly on their backs. the process of investigation. let alone in Chinese. At some point. It is even harder to experience and absorb it. It would seem to me that analysing the form and function of Qi is of less value than knowing if speciﬁc standing qigong practices will. Qigong and the internal martial arts seem to attract more than their fair share of students who would rather discuss and theorise over a cup of tea than practise with any intensity. Its successful use on a variety of domestic animals also indicates that Qi manipulation has a real effect. Do you have to be an expert on electricity and the inner workings of your electrical can opener to use one? Many of the best instructors are fervent believers in the traditional approach to Qi and its cultivation.” “Qi is not a mysterious force.” “You must follow ‘the true path’ to develop Qi.” Such statements often tend to obscure. in the long run.” “Qi must be cultivated with great attention to detail and under constant supervision. In pragmatic terms. Many beginners are desperately seeking the ultimate truth. One group was treated with needles inserted into the requisite points according to the principles of TCM. you can practise safely on your own. a wealth of traditional and modern documentation has been translated and released on this subject. Qigong is a complex subject. make you a healthier person on many levels.STANDING AND MOVING QIGONG
the immigration of many qualiﬁed qigong teachers and video/DVD sales. good intentions. Both groups reported roughly the same amount of improvement in their respective conditions. and of letting go of your doubts and preconceptions. In the end. believe that the traditional approach has little relevance to modern students and that the beneﬁts gained come largely through the physical beneﬁts of the exercises. rather than assist. on the back. for the same chronic medical conditions. Sorting through such a mass of information in English. is largely a question of having faith. Unfortunately for those seeking enlightenment on what Qi is and how to cultivate it. scientiﬁc studies in the West and in China are inconclusive in regards to what is really going on in terms of healing. the therapeutic uses of acupuncture and acupressure on humans is well established in the Orient.
” and the Chinese government. be relaxed. a complex martial discipline like baguazhang is difﬁcult to master. The energy inside cannot ﬂow easily until these bends are removed. As the lungs expand. Body Even though the body doesn’t seem to do much work aside from holding itself up in a relatively still fashion or moving simply in circles. Think of it as the Qi circulating through hoses which are often partially impeded by kinks of varying degrees. it is actually relearning muscle usage and body mechanics. Last but not least. the simpler standing qigong methods minimise the physical aspects of training. in particular. your legs and lower back may get quite sore at ﬁrst. As the joints and body loosen. especially if you are tense by nature or don’t have strong legs. is not altogether at fault for cracking down on certain qigong cults it views as dangerous. relaxed. This is normal. your internal energy is better able to circulate properly. The history of China is rife with groups that started off relatively innocently and then became full-blown cults or agents of social revolution. even if you practise correctly. In this way the entire body learns to use only the right muscles to do the task at hand—not too much effort. and mind. Those looking for medical cures or emotional security are especially prone to being exploited on many levels. The last twenty years have been a fruitful period in both China and North America for the proliferation of qigong “masters. The spine is stretched. The torso and arms must. using a standing posture means there is less chance of getting drowsy. Similarly. The legs and hips are loosened. circulation improves often lowering high blood pressure. Leaving extremism of any kind aside. Standing and moving are not as comfortable as sitting qigong and meditation. in my opinion. and the joints relax. so it is easier to concentrate on the fundamentals of movement and posture in what is called Regulating the Three Treasures: body. However. However. qigong experts rarely completely agree on details of their methods. and energised to easily and efﬁciently support the head and internal organs. keeping the eyes open reduces the chance of falling asleep and collapsing. There are many aspects to co-ordinate. so you must concentrate on the principles of relaxation and body balance in order to do the exercises for extended periods of time. the spine straightens. from style to style. the competent ones usually agree on common principles and are good examples of whatever they practise—emotionally and physically sound human beings with lives and/or families outside of what they teach. breath. and their muscles and tendons are strengthened while the knees relearn to naturally provide shock absorption for the spine and head. not too little.
. looking for someone they can obey and idealise rather than learn from.
REGULATING THE THREE TREASURES
Even with competent instruction and effort.28
restlessly from teacher to teacher. By contrast.
They are located on the midpoint of the bottom of each foot. urinary. “ﬁll” and relax the lower abdomen. as a beginner. Others say that the best points to concentrate on for both sexes are Yongquan. and more stale air is discharged with each breath. Just be attentive and connected to your breathing and to your external environment. With stronger diaphragm and abdominal muscles. As you inhale. improving the functions of the digestive. Imagine that you have ball of energy about the size of a cantaloupe co-existing with your organs. and bones in the lower torso. and deeply. Sinking the Qi to the lower tan-tien does not mean overinﬂating the lungs or swallowing air—you are not trying to become a human blowﬁsh! Use only the process I just described (called Natural Breathing) in which you relax the lower abdomen when inhaling and contract the lower abdomen when exhaling. and this won’t be as evident. tissues. Mind Although it is difﬁcult to do. so don’t get embarrassed if you belch or pass wind. This should be a gentle and long-term process of relearning how to breath evenly. urinary. this does not mean that you go into a trance. reproductive. fully. In this way you retrain the diaphragm to rise and fall over a greater range so that the lungs are used more efﬁciently. The Chinese refer to it as a “monkey” because it is always scampering about being noisy and causing trouble. Don’t try to keep your chest from moving. This produces a massaging effect on the internal organs which is conducive to better digestive.
. These are the only acupuncture points on the bottom of the feet and are major gates for energy moving in and out of the body through the earth. communicate with spirits. hypnotise yourself. It is quite common. thus. while the improvement in diaphragmic movement also produces a massaging effect on the internal organs. You want your entire lower torso to gently expand and compress. when they should not practise or use the middle tan-tien temporarily. leave your body.STANDING AND MOVING QIGONG
Deep abdominal respiration helps to ensure that more fresh air is drawn in. As you exhale. your digestive system will adjust. gentle exhalation is an excellent way of doing this. reproductive. Other experts say that women can use the lower tan-tien. Some authorities believe that women should always concentrate on the middle tan-tien which is located energetically in the area of sternum/upper chest. Over the months. and endocrine functions. blood circulation in the abdominal cavity is improved. as is paying attention to the physical movement in the lower abdomen. and endocrine systems. even though you want the breathing to feel as if it is centred in the lower torso. to get quite gassy when practising. At basic levels. This augments the capacity of the lungs. Counting each slow. Inhale and exhale quietly through the nose while keeping the tongue pressed lightly up against the roof of the mouth. compress the muscles gently to “empty” the belly. or become superman. the conscious mind must be encouraged to give up its obsession with endless mental activity. except during their menses.
which leads—you get the idea! Hence. when you are concentrating and correcting yourself on a conscious level. effort and ongoing practice are the keys.e. Again. Standing this way as an exercise in its own right is also a way of becoming aware. For the ﬁrst few months you will only have the correct posture. If going through this mental checklist while trying to stand accordingly. the use of the Wuji Posture before and after more active qigong training methods and martial forms. For a long time. This “attentive non-attentiveness. Quiet Standing (Wuji Posture) The word Wuji refers to a Chinese philosophical concept. I have appended..” as I like to call it. if at all. the Chinese terms. Tim Cartmell. in progressive stages. is both therapeutic to the spirit and conducive to certain martial skills even though this is not martial practice per se. you won’t be able to remember all (or any) of these points when training on your own—don’t worry about it! As in all aspects of your training. Use them if you like as a memory aid. refer to Erle’s books and/or videos for details on practice for those methods that come from him. which leads to stillness. It seems funny to most beginners that standing still and doing the minimum of physical work properly is the key to eventually moving properly—but there you are! You can also think of running through the following list of key points as a sneaky way of getting yourself to stand quietly before and/or after completing a more complicated qigong method or one of the forms. stillness leads to movement. The Chinese call this the “Ten Thousand Things.
BAGUA STANDING QIGONG METHODS
There are a host of standing qigong methods that are either unique to bagua or have been adapted for use from other qigong systems by various instructors. suggests that standing this way for a few minutes when you ﬁrst get up in the morning can be a way of gently encouraging your body to remember a posture that is structurally efﬁcient and harmonious. eventually it will creep into your daily life. It divided into the movement of Yin and Yang called Taiji (not to be confused with the martial arts that go by that name as well). The methods listed in this manual are my interpretation of methods that I have practised and teach. leaning back slightly. of how gravity and bad habits (i.” To describe it in a more mundane manner.30
Focusing the mind in different ways should be thought of as a precursor to mental emptiness which is a different state from being either thoughtless or of being brainless. and Taiji gave birth to the universe as we know it. start with the top of the head and work your way down:
. keeping more weight on one side than another) can affect the human structure as well as your bagua practice. In Western terms you can compare it to the existential void that existed before creation or the big bang. where appropriate. an internal arts expert that I respect a great deal.
• the tailbone is relaxed so that the pelvis is tilted very gently. One of these methods will feel more natural to you. gently touching. • the palms are hollowed. • the sternum is empty as if you have just sighed deeply (han shou—“hold something precious”). • the crotch (kua—“bridge”) is relaxed. and the scapula should feel downwards. • the tip of the tongue is resting behind the two upper front teeth in gentle contact with the upper palate. while the toes of the feet form a ninety degree angle in relation to the direction you are facing. • the eyes are open but not focused on any details. the most important of practice. the elbows only slightly bent as if you had a one pound weight held in each hand providing a gentle downwards traction to each limb. It expands as you inhale and compresses as you exhale. the knees are almost straight. • the arms and hands are relaxed and long. (N. and the area of your lower spine between the kidneys (mingmen—“Gate of Life”) is able to relax. • the neck is straight and comfortable. the ﬁngers long. or are held comfortably parallel to each other. • inhale and exhale quietly through the nose. relax and drop somewhat. From a traditional perspective this is. The corresponding space in the upper torso feels comfortable and gently expanded. • the feet are held with the heels together. especially where it connects to the centre of the skull. Many of us carry a surprising amount of tension in the jaw and facial muscles. the shoulders are relaxed. and the perineum is lightly closed and lifted (ming dang—“close the inner groin”). • the spine is long and relaxed. • the armpits (kua—“bridge”) are relaxed and slightly rounded.) • the forehead is smooth and free of furrows of concentration.STANDING AND MOVING QIGONG
• lift the top of the back of the head as if it is suspended gently from the ceiling. • the abdomen is relaxed. perhaps. • the teeth and lips are closed. • the legs are relaxed. relaxed. near or far. as if it was lifting gently away and up from the centre of the chest. look at the big picture around you. The only exception is the thumb which should be held a little farther away from the rest of the ﬁngers to form what is called the Tiger’s Mouth. Doing this properly will also assist in keeping the chin at the desired angle.B. Try to keep a slight smile on the face.
. as this encourages the many muscles in the face to relax. especially between the shoulders (ba bei—“draw/pull the back”). use it. and slightly separated one from the other.
And. if you don’t take care of the roots. which falls back down to be boiled again and further reﬁned before being consumed. weight dropping into the centre of the sole slightly towards the heels. is the most important as it also holds the internal organs and is the hub of many energy rivers.. You can think of it as a process similar to distilling liquids. I agree with those who say that what we have done in our modern life is forgot how to listen to our bodies. but that is another story). just above the pelvic basin. centre behind and between the eyes. centre inside the torso. or “Sea of Qi. in the long run. As an analogy to your personal practice. and the body’s weight is evenly distributed between both legs. spiritual. To see long-term beneﬁts. these Taoists also experienced an altered state of consciousness accompanied by sensations of warmth and movement in one or all of three tantien regions of the body: the upper. which coincides with the “extra” acupuncture point Yintang. The latter region is also commonly identiﬁed with Qihai (Conceptor Vessel #6). Heating the lower tan-tien by working the leg muscles causes chemical changes to happen in the body—like lighting a ﬁre under a cauldron of liquids to cause steam to rise. as well as at least one Chinese Emperor (which led to the ﬁrst major persecution of Taoists in China. which creates heat in the lower torso. try to feel the circulation from the tan-tien through the arms and in and out of the ﬁngers or palms while doing this qigong. The methods that Erle Montaigue recommends are safe. liquid mercury. This.
. you need to practise daily from 15–30 minutes at a time for at least one year before moving on to one of the moving methods of qigong. This is not the same as being obsessed with our inner workings as is common in Western society. which coincides with the point Conceptor Vessel #17. Some potions ended up causing madness (one of the by-products of lead or mercury poisoning) and eventual death in many of the alchemists. emotional. said to be the receptacle of the lower tan-tien. The lower tan-tien literally means “elixir ﬁeld. stored. Basic Standing Qigong: Holding the Eight Mother Palms Standing this way is designed to create physical heat by bending the knees. e. Their original goal in such research was to create potions and pills that could be used to create precious metals and bring physical immortality. which corresponds with the point Thrusting Vessel #2. the processes which should be natural. The various liquids are blended in a pot and boiled to produce steam which condenses after rising to produce a purer substance.g. no matter how healthy it looks on the outside.32
• the toes are ﬂat. your tree is liable to be rotten inside. During their meditative practices. the middle. make you a better person and/or a better martial artist. of the three.” which is about three ﬁngers width below the navel. or used immediately as fuel. and the lower. where self-absorbtion and obsession are so commonplace as to be seen as the norm.” and is a term derived from the ancient Taoist alchemical experiments that resulted in gunpowder. the Me generation. Sink gently into the ﬂoor. and a variety of metal alloys. centre in the centre of the sternum. Practising Standing While Holding the Eight Mother Palms can. physical. The lower tan-tien also said to be the root of the tree of life.
STANDING AND MOVING QIGONG
simple. • the spine. bones. It is often said in the traditional arts that the intention leads the Qi. just relax and be patient. it is wise to have a mental image to correspond with each posture. • the wrists. • the legs should be bent with the knees aligned over the toes. “This heals the lower spine and ming-men. with the exception of two postures. as well as the physical structure. has an elongated feel and a slight “C” shape. never try to force your breathing to be slower than normal. Heaven Palm Earth Palm Fire Palm Thunder Palm Wind Palm “This heals the head. “This heals the eyes.” including the mind and spirit. However. “This heals the left side of the torso. Hold each palm for one to ﬁve minutes. and muscles tissues. assume a doubleweighted stance. which are lightly contracted. and the Qi leads the physical effort.” (particularly. the skin. with your feet parallel to one another. with the chin pulled slightly in to help lift the top of the back of the head. from crown to coccyx. “This heals the middle of the torso. Exhale and imagine it being expelled from the abdominal area up and out the ﬁngertips while doing so. (You can rest for up to a minute between palms by keeping the hands in the lower position before moving onto the next when doing longer amounts of each consecutively. so that the palms are concave and the ﬁnger tips are slightly clawed. and effective—and magical in the best sense of that word—if you work at them with any regularity and diligence. the digestive system). • the shoulders are rounded and the elbows hang. are normally held straight in relation to the ﬁngertips and forearms. With time you will ﬁnd that your breathing slows somewhat and eventually each breath will take about ten seconds each. Details of Practice • Stepping into a shoulder-width Horse Stance with the left foot. I would recommend repeating the following description in quotations to yourself as you begin holding each of the eight palms.) Inhale and imagine the Qi coming in through the ﬁngertips and descending to the lower tan-tien. • the tongue is pressed lightly onto the upper palate. as if you were starting to pick a pencil off the ﬂoor with them. but not exclusively.” (considered the windows of the Soul in both Western and Eastern spirituality). • the ﬁngers are stretched apart with a slight tension.” including the organs on that side of the body.”
. Symbolism of Each Palm: While holding each shape. At least for the ﬁrst few months that you practise.
you can raise up too much Yang energy! I am not quite sure if this is what Erle calls this qigong method.
. In fact. “This heals the neck and upper part of the spine. Exhale. and it can be found on his video produced in the mid-1990s that had the ﬁghting methods. while retracting the palms.
Mountain Palm Cloud Palm
Advanced Standing Still Qigong: Push the Palms Starting from the Wuji Posture. wrong again! The essence of the art does lie in walking in circles. But painting a circle in red paint on your wife’s shag rug isn’t always a solution. There should be minimal movement of the body and the arms.” It is important to remember that in Traditional Chinese Medicine. Basic Moving Qigong: Walking the Circle I have often read or been told that walking while holding the Eight Mother Palms is actually the foundation of bagua both as a healing and martial system and. Many who practise in Europe or North America are obliged.” “This heals the right side of the torso. In the long run. walking the circle does what it is supposed to: strengthens the body in a variety of ways. and let the ﬁngers return to the Dragon Palm shape. as well as the eight wrist releases. Do not move the weight from the rear leg and don’t use your arms to push—use your palms! It is important to not overdo this exercise as you can strain the muscles and ligaments in the palm and.” including the organs on that side of the body. in energy terms. Use a Changing Step to retract the left side and extend the right side so that you can do an equal number of breaths on that side. and muscle tissues. and it can be tough for a beginner to walk a circle without having a pattern to follow. so that you can extend your left hand and left foot forward while the right hand covers the centreline and faces into the upper forearm of the left arm. like most beginners.34
“This heals the kidneys. the eight kicking methods and a variety of training methods. assumed that this was just a way to get us to put up with the tedium of basic training so that we could get on with the really important stuff—the various forms. the skin. All the weight of the body has dropped into and remains on the right leg. Well. the kidneys are thought to regulate and be linked to sexual functioning as well as the strength of the legs. due to inclement weather. as has been playfully suggested on a couple of Erle’s bagua videos. The right Dragon Palm is facing the inside of the left elbow and forearm area. to do too much of their training indoors. Do 8 or 16 of these breaths. nothing else matters as much. providing a mild or moderate cardiovascular workout in a small amount of space (like a hamster turning endlessly in its wheel but without the smell of cedar chips!) while calming the mind and spirit. shift the weight of the body onto the right leg. bones. but not quite in the way or for the reasons the average beginner would assume. Inhale and push with the centre of both palms while straightening the ﬁngers.
Of course. you don’t have to be Chinese. and the leaves dropping on your head can be distracting in the Fall…. and ants can become a problem in the Summer…. Unfortunately. and it can be bloody cold in the Winter…. hug a tree today for a variety of reasons. it is common to ﬁnd trees that have circular trails worn around their trunks in the grass or soil. It is usually used in walking the circle. one way to achieve a circular path is to walk around a torchiere-style ﬂoor lamp. this footwork requires that your body weight stays on the rear leg as much as possible. and the other foot steps through to land relatively empty of weight on the heel so that the stepping process is ready to continue. As soon as the foot is ﬂat. any of us with Scandinavian. Once the heel lands. followed by the outside of the foot. Traditionally. The correct mechanics of the Tiger/Natural Step require that you land on the new foot with the toes up and the knee almost straight. or your palms held very close to the surface of the bark. However. and then the toes. Also called. and bystanders tend to think you are crazy if you are practising anywhere except in a park full of elderly Chinese. I must admit that I was reluctant to try it years ago when ﬁrst told about it. In parks frequented by Chinese practitioners. resembles ordinary walking in that the heel touches down. which is a blink in the eye for Father Time. especially when done with and/or surrounded by evergreen trees. all the weight should be on that leg. sort of. But. So. the most beneﬁcial time of the year to do this kind of qigong training was the Spring. This method is more practical for walking on irregular terrain than the other major stepping method. It is better than chopping them down or beating on each other with the exuberance of macho youth! Details of Practice: The Tiger Step footwork. particularly when the trees were ﬂowering. Similarly. both solo and with a partner. by virtue of their longevity and vigour. the Natural Step. there is a lot to be said for practising with trees in this way. and in the Linear and weapons forms. the Slip Step. which is normally used for walking the circle. Stepping properly at a slow or medium pace is essential for learning how to move by
. many settle for getting the body mechanics. While you shouldn’t actually stop moving each time you ﬁnish shifting your weight and dropping the foot—you should be able to do so. in some bagua styles. These are normally tall enough so that you can walk freely around its base while keeping one palm aligned with its shaft. However. But Fall and Winter practice could also be very beneﬁcial. Using a tree as the focus of your circle is a venerable and legitimate aspect of many different qigong practices. inside bagua and in other internal systems. shift your weight to bend your knee and gradually let the sole of the foot touch the ﬂoor. and end up walking in a “ﬂoating” or “double-weighted” manner. Germanic or Anglo-Saxon blood had ancestors who were worshipping the oak trees in Europe as recently as the Dark Ages. Pines. being particularly favoured for such qigong. and you always move the front foot ﬁrst when initiating a step after having stopped.STANDING AND MOVING QIGONG
If you are obliged to practise indoors. There should be little or no weight on that heel as it touches the ﬂoor. in all seriousness.… In fact. pine sap is awfully sticky in the Springtime…. although it is not often easy to get the use of such facilities for something like bagua practice. it can certainly feel great to do your standing qigong with your arms embracing a tree. you can use the circles painted onto the ﬂoors of gymnasiums used for basketball or ﬂoor hockey.
you are facing into the circle with your weight on your left leg. lead the turning action with the hand which will be in the centre of the circle so that once you complete the spinning on the heels you have reversed directions on the circle. record two numbers on the tape recorder. which are common symptoms of walking for most beginners. don’t lead with the correct hand and head/eyes. which are the only ways that you will change direction while using the Eight Mother Palms. keeping the palms stretched and the ﬁngers separated. but if you don’t have good balance. it is easy to lose your balance while executing. As the two numbers are heard. If you are using a circle proportional to your height. This is essential. which breaks the key alignment of the spine. As you do this. as well as being able to do inside and outside turns as required. you swivel on your heels as a result of having shifted your weight and pumped your right palm towards the centre of the circle while retracting the left hand to its guard position near the right elbow. Now you can walk clockwise. Counting the number of circles each way can help you keep track of time. you should hold each palm while walking ﬁrst counterclockwise and then clockwise. and don’t have your feet in the proper relation to the circle and to each other. Record on audio tape random numbers from one to eight for a 15–30 minute time-span. one after the other. The outside turn occurs when you are in a Scissors Stance. before switching to the next. The inside turn is the most commonly used. and your left hand leading into the circle as you walk counterclockwise. Learning to do this ensures that you can suddenly change direction if such is necessary. get winded. Training Tips: • As soon as possible try not to look at your feet when walking the circle by yourself. while walking the circle. For example. Erle recommends another way of training which can be very helpful to the beginner. This will prevent most people from feeling dizzy or nauseous.
repositioning a foot and only then smoothly transferring all of the body weight to that leg. Change direction using an inside or outside turn as appropriate. and you must turn on your heels with both toes spinning around to the rear in an outside arc out of the circle. At a more advanced level. • It is counterproductive to go too fast. To change direction. I suggest getting used to walking the circle while using only one palm posture until you can fairly easily do an inside and outside change. change so that the left palm assumes the ﬁrst number heard while the other—the second number. Keep your eyes directly on your lead hand as much as possible while walking. you should hold the eight palms. count eight of your natural paces in a circular pattern to ﬁgure out what the proper size is for you. Great power is generated using this method. and the easiest. as most beginners will drop their heads to look down. It should take 15–30 minutes to walk the eight palms while holding eight repetitions each way. as you are likely to blur the technical performance of each posture. method of changing direction. Remember. or lose your balance if your body stiffens as you turn. Play the tape while walking and try to change very quickly to the number of that particular palm as you hear it said. Once you have become accustomed to holding your arms in the proper positions.
you are more likely to injure your knees or ankles through poor alignment. You will need a model that resets itself automatically after it beeps. and it is harder to use the waist and the change of weight from one leg to the other to properly generate the turns and arm movements. The basic martial skill is deﬂecting a straight kick downwards.) Downward Sinking Palms/Tiger: Both hands push downwards. these walking methods teach subtle martial skills. and remember to lead that action with the new palm. then opening the back while hollowing the chest.B. As you perform a turn. if you go too slowly. they are equally designed to strengthen and heal the practitioner. then. • Using a timer that beeps at preset intervals can be a good way of training for a predetermined amount of time.
. no matter how quickly you walk the circle—whether on your own or with a partner—you should not develop any momentum from falling into position. Erle does not teach this particular set. with the mental image of holding the Qi in the lower tan-tien. ﬁnally. in an effort to keep the shoulders from stiffening and rising up. real and mythic. As with other forms of martial qigong. then to the upper tan-tien and crown of the head. • Change to the new palm as you change direction using either the inside or outside change. and always move the advancing arm under the retreating arm while doing an outside change. then splitting between high and low. Try to change spontaneously as soon as you hear the alarm.STANDING AND MOVING QIGONG
• However. While it doesn’t matter ultimately which hand goes under and which goes over while switching. • Be aware of the common tendency to drop the lead hand too much while walking. In general. it is a good idea for beginners to be consistent. Advanced Moving Qigong: Holding the Eight Energies Using the following eight additional palms while walking the circle is designed to help the intermediate level student to develop the movement of internal energy: beginning with bringing the energy to the lower tan-tien and legs. I learned it elsewhere in recent years. Some systems identify the eight energies with corresponding animals. not the old one. However. the tip of the longest ﬁnger on the lead hand should be aligned with the tip of your nose—assuming that your head is held properly suspended to begin with. always move the advancing arm over the retreating arm while doing an inside change. • Remember. then splitting between backward and forward. just below the navel. As with most aspects of this internal discipline. and I will add that the changes done when changing direction and/or method contain the essence of these martial energies and directions. tying them all together in the eighth posture. then to the middle tan-tien and arms. brush the forearms lightly together while switching. (N. there is very little consistency between the various styles. Walking the circle and changing smoothly from one to the other at equal intervals are an excellent supplements to form practice or holding the Eight Mother Palms while circling. then the chest is rounded and the sternum closed. For example.
In holding this posture. down. you learn to separate the energy between high and low.
. The basic martial action teaches the cutting aspect of the edge of the hands for both offensive and defensive purposes. palms up. This posture takes the energy that has been brought to the middle tan-tien and allows it to ﬂow up to the upper tan-tien located behind the Third Eye Point (Yintang). and allows the Qi to ﬂow into the hands. Embracing Palm/Ape: The forearms are held together with both palms upwards. Upper & Lower Standing Palms/Snake: One hand is held high and the other low. makes the shoulders very rounded. If doing several qigongs during the same practice session. and descending from the Heavens through the spine. The basic martial skill is deﬂecting with the back hand and breaking an arm at the elbow with a striking lock. palm up. do the less active ﬁrst and progress through the more complex in the AM and reverse that sequence in the PM. This posture helps to connect the the lower tan-tien to the middle tan-tien in the solar plexus and to spread the energy out to both palms in a balanced manner. The idea is to be in accordance with the natural rhythm of the day. as if crashing/crushing through any obstacles. and thrusting forward to counter-attack with the same hand. closes the front of the chest. while still remaining full and complete. The basic martial action deﬂects downwards and crushes both palms forward and downwards through the attacker’s chest. The basic martial skill is cutting with the edge of the hand to deﬂect. The basic martial action is deﬂecting downwards to strike forward and slightly upwards into the throat or jawline with both hands. The practitioner imagines that the Qi is ﬂowing through the arms in a circular loop. front and back. the hands are being held as if they are cradling a bowling ball. as well as rising through the ground. The basic martial action is to strike down while striking upwards. This posture opens up the energy in the back. Double Crushing Palms/Bear: This posture expands the energy in the chest by pushing the palms outwards. Focus on the palms as if you were holding something small and round in the hollow of each palm. This on guard position is the “signature palm” of our style and combines all the other energies and lines of attack and defence. Heaven and Earth Palms/Lion: One hand is extended into the circle. while the other spirals diagonally downwards and back. and away from the body. This posture will help you to understand splitting/ folding energy. palm up. at about shoulder heigh.
GENERAL GUIDELINES FOR QIGONG PRACTICE
Practise the most active qigongs in the early morning and the less active and quiet ones in the evening. The image is of pushing the arms out. The wrists are slightly Yang. the other arcs above the head. Twisting-Turning Palm/Dragon: One hand is held over the centre of the circle while the other is open near the elbow. Turning Palms/Hawk: One hand spirals diagonally forward and up.38
Double Lifting Palms/Crane: The arms are extended to the sides.
Don’t try to adhere to a rigid schedule of progress—such concepts are ridiculous in terms of becoming healthier physically and emotionally. Conversely. “Yesterday I was ‘one with the universe. “Holding it in” will impede your concentration on stance. and try to do the quieter methods barefeet..e.’ and it was marvellous. if you only practise when you feel like it. Conversely. I have found that forcing myself to train when I least feel like it has been beneﬁcial in ﬁghting whatever stress was causing the reluctance to train in the ﬁrst place (i.. and can result in a famous qigong condition called Wet Rug. when in mourning for a loved one. especially if you have a view of nature. particularly in the Springtime. If you force the intensity of your training. If you think of your training as being partly to reﬁne and produce a better quality of Qi. The breathing should be encouraged to deepen and slow down. Yang Jwing Ming in one of his excellent texts on qigong recommends at least 24 hours of abstinence from sexual activity before and after qigong. drink alcohol.STANDING AND MOVING QIGONG
Practise outside whenever possible. It is hard to concentrate if your stomach growls constantly. and visualisation. and you will be more likely to catch a chill. don’t practise with a full bowel or bladder. when your stomach is full. Have a light nutritious meal before training. as causing extra tension trying to force your breathing is hardly a worthwhile path. if possible. don’t train if you haven’t eaten in some time. it is important to have a healthy diet that contains sufﬁcient and balanced foods while avoiding greasy or sweet things. When doing qigong your pores will be open.
.”). breathing. you are even less likely to get enough practice to see any real beneﬁt. Don’t eat a big meal. That includes trying too hard to use abdominal or natural breathing patterns. If you must practise indoors. Many people practise for years without dramatic experiences or revelations. progress will not happen naturally. Don’t force the breathing in any way. Similarly. don’t continue to train if you are wearing excessively sweaty clothing.g. In particular. but that doesn’t mean that they are not beneﬁting from their training. try to do it on a balcony or at least facing a large window. as you want to avoid getting chilled from both a traditional Chinese and Western medical perspectives. With particular regard to food. Don’t confuse the forest with the trees—symptoms of Qi movement are transitory and should not be the object of obsessive fascination (e. or engage in sexual activity for at least one hour before and after practising qigong. For example. In regards to the latter. and you can experience cramps or bloating. Don’t train in either an excessively cold or hot environment. but don’t try to force yourself to breathe correctly. avoid standing in the draft of an air conditioning unit when inside or facing the wind if practising outside. Similarly. abdominal breathing and certain moving methods will affect your digestion. Nor is it necessary to abstain from meat or dairy products unless you do so on ethical grounds or have an allergy to the latter. when tired from the stress of daily life). It is easy to fall into the trap of thinking that no food or a severely restrictive diet will somehow purify you or make you a better practitioner. and being natural is one of the cornerstones of internal training. there tends to be a wide variety of opinions. Dr. I want it to happen again today.
It is easy to get carried away with rules like this. which psychologically is often interpreted as repressed anger..e. though. Traditionally. ﬁxating on a speck of dirt on the window or a particular branch on a tree) as this can also disturb proper attentiveness and make you feel dizzy.” or “My periods are longer and heavier than they used to be. Traditional experts also feel that long sleeves and long pants help to keep the Weiqi (our innate protective energy) where it belongs. or are very angry. you will feel more cheerful after having a more vigorous workout—thanks partly to the production of endorphins from the physical demands of the moving qigong. but it is also interesting to note that many of those who advocate the importance of wearing silk or cotton nowadays are also selling qigong outﬁts made of these same materials! It is also important to acknowledge that some modern synthetics are excellent for resisting wind chill and wicking sweat away from the skin. Don’t practise when there is a dramatic change in the weather.e.“My periods seem shorter and less painful. the lower and middle tan-tien areas are considered physical pumps for energy. i. Doing so interrupts the postures you should be holding or doing at the time and means that the natural rebalancing of your body is impeded when your hands wander about consciously in this way. and I experience less PMS than I used to.
.” Make sure that you don’t close your eyes completely when training. Certainly. Don’t move your arms from the required position to scratch a sudden itch. e. there can be an effect on the severity and duration of periods.. This doesn’t apply if you happen to be doing one of the qigongs designed to aid in adapting to the changes of the ﬁve traditional Chinese seasons (Spring. and I think common sense and the weather should dictate your clothing when you train. belts.. for those women who practise standing and moving qigong regularly.” but “If I stand while menstruating I become very uncomfortable. Summer. Such sensations are a stage many practitioners go through. Don’t practise standing qigong if you have a fever. I have always preferred the feel of natural materials in my own training. Your training can interfere with your body’s natural readjustment to the new weather patterns. because synthetics can impede Qi ﬂow. Moving qigong at a moderate pace is better for practising when angry or very depressed. Normally. evenly distributed on the surface of the skin. Fall. or are in the acute phase of an illness. This is a difﬁcult subject to hand out advice on—partly because I am a man. instead of leaking away from the arms and legs when the limbs are uncovered. This is beneﬁcial for some. not others.g. which minimises chilling when training outside. as they may restrict the easy expansion of the lower tan-tien or natural chest expansion. Late Summer. linen. but don’t get mesmerised by one point of reference in the scenery or your environment (i. this is why it is very important not to restrict the in-and-out expansion of these areas. and Winter). Women should stop or moderate their training during menses and focus on the middle tantien while doing zhanzhong.40
Some authorities emphasise the importance of wearing long-sleeved clothing made from natural materials. Don’t wear tight clothing. partly because female students each tend to experience different effects of their training. or brassiere. cotton. silk.
or friends. or obsessed over the details of your training—stop and go for a long walk. This may be the symptom of a deﬁciency of Yang energy. have told me this is a frequent by-product of practising qigong and is a good sign. Your body/mind. try rocking the body forward and back or side to side. It is human nature to feel that you don’t have to do basic qigong exercises. You feel numbness or tingling in the limbs or hands: Some experts. try holding the palm shapes closer to the body. consult a recognised qigong doctor. especially if you are a smoker or female. avoid losing your temper. if you are shopping around and learning methods elsewhere. or it can feel like the vibrating/buzzing sensation that you get when you place your hand on a small motor housing. When in doubt. do something physical that interests and stimulates you in a pleasant and moderate way. If the pain is in the legs or lower back.
. or mentally fatigued. as opposed to moving qigong. it might also be the symptoms of nerve damage in the affected limb or of something like Carpal Tunnel Syndrome.” and it is easy to overestimate the value of your previous experiences. whether you are doing everything correctly or not. ride your bike. or to feel cold when practising standing quietly. If the pain is in your shoulders or arms. This is particularly bad for the Qi and the liver. It means the Qi is trying to get through properly in areas where it has been blocked. you should persist. as you have experience in other meditation methods. For most of us “pride goes before the fall.STANDING AND MOVING QIGONG
Don’t practise when angry. Erle Montaigue included. or the telephone. You feel sore or in pain: I am afraid that some pain and discomfort is normally present in the ﬁrst few months of training. and it sends you signals designed to make you stop. if the numbness or tingling continues after you stop doing qigong. doesn’t like standing still. or just can’t seem to focus on anything. However. Within reason. don’t do qigong exercises that you are not physically or emotionally prepared for. DON’T TRY TO SELF-DIAGNOSE AND HEAL SERIOUS AND/OR ACUTE MEDICAL CONDITIONS EXCLUSIVELY THROUGH METHODS THAT YOU HAVE LEARNED FROM ME OR ANOTHER BAGUA TEACHER—CONSULT A REPUTABLE QIGONG OR TRADITIONAL CHINESE MEDICINE DOCTOR. probably. stop training that method and consult a qigong doctor or acupuncturist. Try tensing and releasing your toes if the pain is in your feet. This tingling can feel like a mild case of when your foot goes to sleep.
COMMON SYMPTOMS EXPERIENCED DURING OR AFTER TRAINING
You feel dull and scattered: On days when you are exceptionally tired. You feel cold all over or in speciﬁc parts of the body: In the ﬁrst few months of regular training it is common to have sensations of excessive cold in the extremities. Finally. If the feeling of cold is accompanied by pain. Don’t resume practising immediately unless you have been able to restore your sense of calm. If you are interrupted by family.
it is usually on days when I was feeling tenser or more tired than usual. You may experience aching eyes if you are staring too much in general. If you are used to doing meditation or are strong but relaxed to begin with. i. And of course. depending on the season. However. if you are training outside on a very hot day—guess what? You should sweat!!! You become Frightened or Startled: Many experts advocate training alone in a quiet and private environment. An episode of shaking should subside fairly quickly. which means that you will experience pain for that reason. I rarely sweat when doing the methods I practise regularly. Speaking from my own experience. or sharp. Many experts say that you must experience a probationary period of time in which you tremble. Although. for all or part of your qigong. your health. or that persists after your training session. N. It is important to make sure that your posture is sound when doing any form of qigong. Some experts maintain that your training should eventually reach the point when you can continue in a state of sung even though “Mount Tai should collapse at your feet. sometimes violently. many experts interpret sweating as a sign that you are doing the methods properly.42
Of course. probably. The truth. It can “disturb and scatter the Qi”—as the traditionalists would say—so that you feel agitated and upset for quite sometime afterwards. Nowadays. and you are releasing stagnant Qi and toxins through the pores.B. when you feel disoriented and are not quite awake.” You have difﬁculty sleeping: In general. Others say that you should never consciously induce trembling or shaking as a means of inducing physical relaxation or of encouraging the Qi to ﬂow freely through minor blockages. Don’t ignore pain that is agonising. you are too tense or using too much muscle. And when it still happens. where the shaking is more likely to be localised in the arms and shoulders and caused by excess muscle use or tension. you don’t go too fast or try too many repetitions of the moving methods. If you sweat while doing self-healing methods. the practice of standing and moving qigong will be very beneﬁcial to your sleep patterns. as you become more relaxed and stronger internally. or when you are doing methods that affect the liver or strengthen the eyes. lies somewhere in between. you can also be standing with your butt stuck out and your spine arched. Perhaps. You experience excessive sweating even though you are standing still: There are several streams of thought on sweating in qigong. you may ﬁnd that
. I was sweating like a pig when doing certain methods for the ﬁrst few months. it is important not to do methods that are too stimulating before bedtime. I ﬁnd that I tremble and shake much less than a few years ago when I do my standing. You get a Headache or Aching Eyes: Headaches are often a sign of Qi congestion in the head and can be relieved by doing “grounding” methods or by massaging the appropriate acupuncture points on the body. it is like the phenomena you can experience when wakened during a dream. you may never experience any signiﬁcant shaking. I have experienced this and seen it happen to others in my classes. You must also discriminate between the shaking that happens when you are doing standing still exercises as opposed to moving methods. although you may experience aftershocks a few moments later.. You can become very sensitive to outside stimuli—a sudden noise or a touch.e. Trembling: You could write a book on this subject alone. you are doing it wrong! However. and the time of month.
On a purely physical level it can needlessly stress the body. The one-legged standing Breathing Palms Method is also time-effecient method of martial qigong. circulatory problems (e. sometimes. and learning how to relax as much as possible while still doing work. You start coughing for no reason: Assuming that you don’t have a cold or ﬂu.” was his comment. haemorrhoids) are common results for those who stand excessive periods of time. It can be addictive. Smokers may also ﬁnd that they have coughing ﬁts when doing even gentle methods. and becoming healthier in general can restore interest in such matters. A rule of thumb is to practise the most active methods in the morning and the quieter methods in the evening. if you eat to compensate for depression or being overstressed. and a fat person lose weight even though they are not trying to do so! Some methods are more effective than others in this realm. It is important to remember that the Taoists often had a very healthy attitude to sexuality and realised that sexual energy is an important aspect of a healthy life. Some of the traditional methods are designed to restore normal functioning to the sexual organs. Another good reason to quit! You get aroused while training: This is a very common side effect to qigong training and can be very disturbing to some people. Don’t worry about transitory feelings of arousal while you train. people who do a lot of standing qigong get hip troubles. i. there you go—perhaps I overdid it and should have listened to my own good advice!
. The intermediate level of bagua student should concentrate on walking the circle as the primary qigong method. and the adjustment is partly due to abdominal breathing massaging the digestive system. It is designed to teach fundamentals of posture and body mechanics. He was apparently surprised until told that I did standing qigong and other internal martial arts. One of my taiji students was apparently recently telling her Chinese acupuncturist about the hip troubles that I have suffered in recent years. For example. too much standing is not good for an individual. such cravings may cease as you become healthier through your training. and partly due to a gradual change in how you approach eating on an emotional level. the most common cause of coughing is using too much muscle while doing methods that affect the lungs. However. So. although they rarely agree.STANDING AND MOVING QIGONG
any method will energise you too much if done too close to bedtime. especially when they don’t get a sufﬁcient amount of movement exercise. and don’t be surprised if you don’t start being interested in such activity again if your interest had waned because of poor health or being stressed out.
Standing qigong is a marvellous exercise for beginners. and how to stretch the ﬁngers and the palms.. Quite often it will make a skinny person regain an interest in food and gain weight. You are hungry all the time or have lost interest in eating: Qigong can have a profound effect on your metabolism. I would be remiss if I didn’t point out that obsessively standing still in weird positions is a symptom of certain neurological and psychological disorders..g.e. “Oh. slowing the breathing.
Feel free to experiment with those or with any competent methods you can learn elsewhere. but remember to focus in your daily training on those methods that are most beneﬁcial to your individual needs.44
One last word of advice—time is inelastic. Erle taught me other qigongs as well that I no longer practise or teach. and it is better to know a few training methods well and practise them regularly than to be a dabbler. There are a host of others that I never practised regularly available on his videos.
In many schools. His answer was short and profound (you will have to imagine the heavy Dutch accent). there is a tendency among modern martial artists to assume that the forms. Plus. The other way to approach this is to feel as if your head is being pulled upwards gently. He was asked why so many modern martial arts schools seemed to focus on forms. like the strings of a marionette support its head. the hours go by. Unfortunately. Shihan John Bluming. due to their difﬁculty and complexity. and the money rolls in. It is worth repeating that the essence of bagua lies as much in regular and attentive practice of walking the circle by yourself as in the various forms and training methods. modern students quickly get bored if told to “hold that stance” or “walk the circle” class after class—and they might take their fees to another school!
DETAILS OF POSTURE
The Head The practitioner’s head must be held as if gently suspended and with the neck feeling long. “Instructors love teaching forms. the former is the garden where you grow all the ingredients for those recipes. but there is an unfortunate tendency in modern commercial schools to focus on teaching those things that require less one-on-one supervision. perhaps. are the more advanced ways of training. I remember seeing a television documentary on the martial arts a few years ago. It is better to imagine that a small object is resting on top of the back of the head and must be supported there through proper posture alone. as if suspended. students often tighten the neck muscles in order to keep the head upright and the chin pulled in. As to forms practice for the sake of knowing another form.Chapter Three
Fundamentals: The Empty-Hand Solo Forms
As I said in the previous chapter. The latter are recipes for nourishing food. They were interviewing one well-respected long-term karate expert.
. rather than repeating the basics of solo and ﬁghting practice. basic training tends to be glossed over in favour of focusing on learning and practising a variety of forms.…” Cynical.
means that it can become difﬁcult to do some of the directional changes without losing your balance. The eyes are also responsible for leading the body in a new direction when a change of direction is necessary. This is a difﬁcult concept to get. as the natural tendency is to turn the head instead of the eyes when changing direction. While there are different opinions on what type of facial expression (if any) is appropriate. when using a cleansing breath by exhaling through the mouth. is responsible for maintaining a sense of where you are and where you are going while training. my own feeling is that a gentle smile is most appropriate for setting the mood for solo training and relaxing the many small muscles of the face and jaw. the ultimate goal is to bring a mindless attentiveness to your solo practice. It take time to learn how to lead with the eyes and turn the head properly at the right moment. This is why you should supplement your form training with other exercises or qigongs that safely train a full range of motion in the neck and. The lips should stay gently closed. Conversely. and the teeth should remain in light contact. It is also hard to put into words and tends to vary with the form being done. the tongue will drop temporarily away from the upper palate. (Yes. you are more likely to be injured or knocked out. depending on their preferences and to the type of breath being
. of course. they must express attitude in the sense of looking forward through the lead hand or in the new direction once you start to move. The mind. This is. The tongue stays raised on the upper palate. in all of the joints. the Linear Form can feel quite imperative—like you are a barbarian charging and shrieking to throw yourself on the unsuspecting Roman legions marching past in the Teutoburg Forest. Learning to keep the tip of the tongue gently pressed up against the roof of the mouth and held behind the two front teeth is an integral part of the internal martial arts and qigong. and I certainly don’t experience it with any consistency during my training. with your head loose and unaligned. You may ﬁnd that the type of expression can vary spontaneously depending on the type of form being done as well as your mood on a particular day. One day. issuing power by striking while using a HA sound will also mean that the tongue drops temporarily away from the upper palate. the tongue stays up and behind the teeth. I have watched too many historical movies over the years!) Even though the gaze of the eyes should be unfocused when doing the Wuji Posture. The gaze should not be lowered even when the practitioner focuses inwardly.46
As to the mind inside the head. Similarly. Instructors who have been trained in a traditional manner may talk about the importance of doing this in conjunction with lifting the Huiyin point between the legs when inhaling or exhaling. There are exceptions to this rule. using your eyes properly but not allowing the head to turn. of course. One of the reasons for not turning the head just any old way is it encourages the skull to be centred and gently raised. In general though. easier said than done. as much as the eyes. as it should always be. If you were struck in the head (remember the martial roots of bagua) or pulled suddenly by the arm. If you change direction suddenly while moving from one posture to another. the Circular Form may have a smooth and wave-like feeling—like being in a river and ﬂoating along in a mild current on a warm summer day. the muscles of the upper shoulders and neck tend to stiffen or atrophy to some extent. for that matter. For example. if you don’t exercise them. In addition. On another day.
the admonition to straighten the spine does not mean to “iron it out. Small details. to maintain a more efﬁcient flow of Qi through the Governing and Conceptor Vessels along the midline of the back and front of the torso and head respectively. there is the issue of learning to avoid getting into a scrap that would otherwise never had happened if you had remembered your teacher’s good advice “to hold your tongue. Deep breathing can dry the mouth out surprisingly quickly.” The S-shaped curves are meant to provide suspension so that your structure is ﬂexible and does not jar the brain and the internal organs with every step..e. in favour of recycling). Similarly. I have noticed that a number of otherwise talented practitioners have had difﬁculty breaking the habit of letting the tip of the tongue protrude or keeping the mouth slack while training. which may also help explain why a very common by-product of doing qigong is feeling hungry after you train. where han means containing something fragile or “holding it carefully. according to some experts with real skill in
. Such habits are more likely to develop when there is little or no contact to the head as in most modern martial arts. This ﬂow also stimulates the digestive system. As Erle Montaigue has often said. ensures that these hormones are not wasted by being expelled. One of the most important rules of practice is han-shou. are what make up the bulk of one’s training once you are no longer a beginner. Oh. and by the way. some practitioners have interpreted han-shou as bending or hollowing the chest inwards. like this one. leaving that oriﬁce more prone to infection by viruses and bacteria that more easily cross the membranes of the mouth and throat under such conditions—particularly. However. From all this the seeds of true skill are sown. if you don’t make a conscious effort to only inhale through the nose.THE EMPTY-HAND SOLO FORMS
done. saliva is full of hormones. However. Bad martial habits are easier to create than to correct. As han can also means “swallow” or “inward” in Chinese. and one such habit is failing to keep your mouth shut and your tongue in place behind the teeth and not between them while practising combat skills with a partner. “the internal arts are very green” (i. which in itself is also a very bad pun!) The Torso The entire spine to the top of the neck must be held straight but not stiff. While the area of the ming-men must be relaxed. but some have to be tapped in the jaw once or twice before they realise how painful it can be to ignore the teacher about what seems like a meaningless detail. a common internal arts misconception is to stifﬂy extend the spine in order to eliminate the curves that nature intended your spine to have. as is often recommended. However. and swallowing this ﬂuid during practice. Over the years. or while ﬁghting. It is one thing to constantly verbally remind someone that they should pull their tongue in and close their mouth.” (I say this only partly tongue-in-cheek. only partly in jest. However.” and shou means chest. keeping the tongue lifted stimulates the production of saliva which moistens the membranes and also has antibiotic properties to defend against such infection. there are two other very pragmatic reasons to keep the tongue against the roof of the mouth.
so it must be very relaxed and ﬂexible and must not tip to one side (i. Traditionally. It is important to remember that the early practitioners of the internal arts in China were either farmers. and while it is desirable for a variety of reasons to understand Yin and Yang in those joints. It is a gross distortion of the intent of the early masters to tuck your butt in forcibly and round the shoulders all the time while doing qigong or the forms.e. When you see real masters of this art—and of any martial art that can claim sound physical body mechanics—there is always a beautiful straightness to their posture. particularly for martial purposes. The waist should be thought of as the crucial link between the upper and lower halves of the body.. Raising the shoulders and pushing them forward violates the traditional stipulation ba bei. The ﬁngers should be gently curved but not stiff and separated gently from one another.” The Arms Modern students. They didn’t need building-up the way most modern students do! The wrists should remain relaxed throughout all the movements. particularly in the palm and ﬁngers. or professional bodyguards. If those organs are tight or constricted.”
. particularly those who are desk-bound in their daily work. it is impossible for them to work efﬁciently. forcing the shoulders forward and down. Strong but not stiff. this will make it possible to lead the Qi down to the tan-tien. It is even more important to avoid tension. or teachers of the martial arts. while bei refers to the back. depending on the style they are learning and the strengths and weaknesses of each instructor. The goal is not to move the arms as if there is no range of mobility in the elbows. will gradually develop an awareness of the spine being the controlling component of vertical circling. The palm should be curved and “soft. They were already physically strong from years of working in the ﬁelds or from years of training. or sticking the neck out. Do not try to fabricate the feeling by leaning forward. tend to have very tense shoulder muscles and a slumped posture. The waist is in charge of horizontal turning and twisting. It can be very difﬁcult to get them to achieve an active relaxation of those areas. one hip mustn’t ever be signiﬁcantly higher than the other).48
both the Chinese internal arts and the Chinese language (thanks to Tim Cartmell). where ba means to stretch and straighten. The lower abdomen should be like the chest—relaxed and empty—so that movement in that part of the body can be led by the back and the waist. The arms tend to be overused in many athletic endeavours and underused in the internal arts. Students through different exercises. The old masters offered a valuable piece of taiji advice that is certainly relevant in bagua as we do it: “If the movement is still not correct after the arms and legs have been corrected. a more accurate interpretation of han-shou is to empty the chest or to let it do its job of “being empty” in terms of heart/lung function. but to decrease the use of the arms in favour of increasing the co-ordination of the arm expansion and contraction with the expansion and contraction of the body as a whole. then the deﬁciency is probably in the waist.
In addition.THE EMPTY-HAND SOLO FORMS
If the wrong kind of focus is obsessively directed to the palms and ﬁngers. They can also be symptoms that you are overdoing certain aspects of your training and that your limbs are protesting. heat and redness of skin. The eventual aim is to have a gentle lifting feeling in the area that could be compared to wearing invisible underwear that is snug. A useful concept is to maintain the feeling of the torso lifting gently off the buttocks and staying centred over them. Doing so is liable to cause tension and tends to cause the tailbone to tip forward. not binding. Relaxation and sound posture (the knee and toes in vertical alignment) help the knees transmit the weight of the body from the hips to the ankles. the term ming-dang means to close the inner groin and buttocks area. This is not a healthy exercise if done to excess and will only improve sexual function in certain cases that relate to weak muscles in that area. These sensations can be symptoms of enhanced Qi flow. off-center from the natural vertical plane of the spine. but your legs must always work while you are on your feet. depending on the martial situation. It can be fascinating to try to explore how the various styles explore and label a common set of body mechanics and posture. this should be almost simultaneous. as well as feelings of fullness or tingling can follow. Sometimes merely shifting the hips in a rocking manner will provide the modicum of weight movement necessary to power a posture when there is not enough room to move the feet. and instead try to remain relaxed so that the ligaments. As to which came ﬁrst: the hands or the body. In Chinese martial arts. Many people are built so that it looks as if their bum is sticking out when it is not really affecting their postural integrity. muscles and tendons can be fully relaxed. sensations such as trembling. depending on the style that you follow). as is usually done in our bagua. but are nothing special in the sense that a student should not chase experiencing such phenomena while practising. They must be relaxed and balanced. In Erle’s forms and methods the waist will normally feel and act as if it powers and leads the action of the arms and hands. It bears repeat-
. the arms can rest at times. This applies even when you lean forwards and backwards. but at the same time don’t obsess about tucking them in. not to mention the weight of the body. However. body following the hands is not always inappropriate. The Legs The hips are crucial to supporting the work of the spine and waist. and lifting this area is often misconstrued as meaning that you must squeeze or forcibly lift the sphincter muscles. During training. as you sometimes do in bagua. so it is a tricky concept to get. In practice.… There is a strong thread in many traditional bagua styles of having the hands lead the body into position—as opposed to being pushed into position by the torso/waist and weight change. the crucial joints of the legs are worked very hard in that they are always bent more than in normal daily activities (sometimes very bent. they act as the leaders of the waist in many ways. Do not let the buttocks protrude. It is better not to pay any special attention to the rectum or area of the huiyin. Despite not having a very large degree of motion. and must open and close in the same way that the shoulders must open and close in a co-ordinated manner. Dang refers to the entire perineal area.
As to “weighting. or the way in which a cat can adjust itself while falling to land on its feet. he can reﬁne and improve upon his natural abilities and skate even faster. big step” has become so automatic and subtle that it seems almost magical to those who can not do it. Practitioners are instructed to keep the foot flat as in the Slip Step. I would suspect that every internal expert who deserves that label moves in that way. it is also important to not clench the toes when trying to obey the teacher’s instruction to grip the ﬂoor or earth with your toes. The more common version is that the weight is momentarily more or less completely on one leg while the other foot is repositioned. They are built upon the pre-heaven. apparently it happens frequently.
ing that your knees are not designed to be weight-bearing.
XIAN TIAN & HOU TIAN CONCEPTS
Xian literally means “before. For example. whether doing Chen Style. This kind of footwork and movement didn’t make sense to me from a logical perspective until I started doing it martially. When moving. For example. To my mind. behaviour. an individual may be able to learn skating without much training. we now know that human newborns have the “pre-heaven” ability to automatically hold their breath and paddle if suddenly immersed in water. This is as much a mental activity as a physical one. but are meant to transmit your weight efﬁciently to your ankles and feet. or more skilfully. this implies many years of experience.” there are two major schools of thought. Yang Style. liu he ba fa. With proper training and technique.” and tian means “the sky or heaven. Such forms are derived from the circular forms and are more speciﬁcally technique and ﬁghting oriented. and then the weight is immediately shifted to the new leg. hou means “after or behind” so that Hou Tian denotes skills and abilities that are learned or acquired after birth. perched on one foot. Of course. or even learn to ﬁght other hockey players. the circlular forms and circle walking training methods are classiﬁed as pre-heaven to show that they provide the foundation for all further activities. innate abilities.” This phrase is commonly translated into English as “pre-birth” or “pre-heaven” training and is used to denote innate abilities. but must be learned and practised. bagua. a preheaven ability. even though he may seem still on the outside—like a gyroscope in its ability to right itself. stable and mobile—whether he or she seems to be double-weighted. not learned. or whatever.
. This is genetic. I could be wrong. post-heaven abilities. In most bagua styles. The ankles must be straight and relaxed to properly lead the feet.… Ask my wife. as opposed to standing qigong. or standing on the head! In essence. and we would say he has natural talent. hsing-i. the latter expert (and they are very rare indeed) is moving internally all the time. What I call “small step. or to arch the sole in a natural manner—not overly ﬂexed or artiﬁcially ﬂattened when doing the Natural/Tiger Step. The other opinion suggests that eventually being “single weighted” is meaningless in that the practitioner is completely balanced.
was a later addition. four. call them “The 32 Fighting Methods” even though. I have seen several of these demonstrated live and on video. rather than one long sequence. The original set. While it is best to learn under supervision. Dragon Whips Its Tail. the most reliable modern martial arts historians believe that the late Master Gao created the Linear Forms. a couple of older Chinese books. but should only be taught and practised as individual units. speed. you get 33. Erle Montaigue’s version holds up extremely well—especially for the martial usage—when compared to most of what I have seen elsewhere. I have seen translations of. was ﬁrst published in 1984 and he is hardly “jumping on the bagua bandwagon. each palm change is separated by walking the circle once (Change #7 is the only exception) using the slip-stepping method. and our brains—not just our bodies—need exercise to remain healthy as we age. a few teachers insist that the ﬁghting methods were never meant to be practised in sequence. and some are so different that you would swear they came from completely different sources. it is a good practice for the student to be taught the ﬁrst side and then teach him or herself the reverse side. The kick method. as usually portrayed through the centuries in most Western Christian thought. It is not always the reptilian monster or servant of the devil. has evolved his own training methods over the years. called that to differentiate it from the other forms Master Jiang created during his career as a bagua teacher. Of course. or eight mini-forms. spicy food often gives people indigestion! As to the types of controversy that can bedevil those researching bagua. but the forms that he still teaches are much as they were when I ﬁrst saw them in the late 80s. as doing so is a great mental exercise. or 36. balance. then it is done in mirror image to create a totally balanced physical exercise. apparently. like many good modern teachers. when you count the actual methods. variety—the spice of life. I have seen three different such kick methods used even though each has the same name. combining the bagua he had learned from Cheng Ting Hua with techniques from his former training in Xing Yi Quan and Shaolin Chuan. In any case. the dragon is a symbol of Imperial power as well as of Yang or Yin energy. neutral. not 32. illustrated with line drawings. ended with the Snake Method.
POST-HEAVEN TRAINING: THE LINEAR FORM
Those bagua styles that teach some version of what Erle calls the Linear Form often teach it as either two.THE EMPTY-HAND SOLO FORMS
PRE-BIRTH TRAINING: THE CIRCULAR FORM OF JIANG JUNG CHIAO
This form is sometimes called the Dragon Form and is practised to develop the power. As to the Circular Form that he teaches. Ah. Furthermore. on both taiji and bagua. and can be portrayed as good. or bad in the many myths about it. One of his ﬁrst books.” as has sometimes been unfairly said on the Internet. Similarly. There are many different versions of this Original Form. just because bagua is now becoming fashionable in North America. co-ordination and agility of this legendary mythical beast. 34. In Chinese myth.
When you add the use of the waist for side to side movement and the use of ming-men for up and down movement. and many modern teachers focus their teaching efforts on the Circular Form and selected ﬁghting methods. The Six Directions The six directions are. When you sum it up on paper. Again. • To the left and to the right: in simple terms this is related to turning the hips and shoulders. these six directions are: • Up and down: the prime motivation in physical terms for this dimensional pair is the ming-men (small of the back) as well as themuscles of the abdomen. it is much easier to write this or to read it than to understand what is being described on an experiential level. connecting the minimal use of the arms to this movement is what makes the internal approach different from a more segmented/cruder approach.52
I think it is best to approach the Linear Form as being a catalogue of the most useful martial techniques found in the Circular Form. However. this space between the hip bones and the ribcage plays a crucial factor in separating internal body mechanics from a more segmented and cruder approach. partly because of this mechanism and partly because of the shoulders and elbows. and that there are less than 30 basic types of application. I have also read that the ﬁrst eight methods are the key methods in terms of martial practicality. Due to the length of time that it takes to have even a basic skill in its execution.
GENERAL TRAINING TIPS FOR EMPTY-HAND FORMS
As I said before. • Forward and back: in simple terms this relates to shifting the body weight forward and back. I will not repeat the details of the practice of these forms at a basic level here. of course. the Linear Form is becoming a rarity in modern times—few schools still teach it. from side-to-side as necessary.
. While the arms will move up and down. A simple demonstration by an instructor who can actually do the above is worth 10. or the waist area alone. that deﬁnes any efﬁcient use of body mass and mechanics for qigong and martial purposes. another way of talking about the three-dimensional aspect of movement.000 words that the reader will only understand in his head. videos and workshops. Erle has explained these much better in his classes. as well as stepping forward and back. from those you can make up an almost unlimited number of techniques that are variations—depending on your skill and the type of attack being used against you. books. Of course. you begin to get the kind of physical co-ordination that is the foundation of any internal art. I will append what advice I feel might be helpful from my perspective of having taught this material on an ongoing basis for over a decade.
This is physically easier. and it is ideal on smooth surfaces. It is possible to develop great speed with this method. This footwork is normally used to develop the ability to do low kicks. This is the hardest of the footwork methods to get right on a consistent basis. or to drive your moving foot downwards into your attacker’s knee.THE EMPTY-HAND SOLO FORMS
Erle recommends that the Circular Form be practised with the Slip Step. is done in a linear manner. No good style that I am aware of allows you to lift the toes ﬁrst or higher than the heel while moving that foot. other methods are occasionally found in the forms and should become relatively easy with time and effort. as well as in partner training that involves walking the circle. Most people in my experience will be able to do it reasonably well and consistently walking in one direction. However. Changing Directions You will normally use the inside and outside changes the most in your forms. While some styles allow you to lift the heel a little higher than the toe. or as a sudden turn to block and strike. as the Tiger/Natural Step is more useful in terms of adapting to a variety of terrains. The Linear Form. Some bagua teachers state that this stepping method is really only suited to beginners.
. This is always used after having “wrapped” the arms. or it can be used to suddenly lift an attacker’s foot with your swinging foot to imbalance him. This movement is epitomised in the Sixth Change of the Circular Form by the footwork executed in “Sweep Ten Thousand Enemies” and in the Linear Form by the posture Checking Palm to Abdomen. The feet are kept ﬂat on the ground. You don’t have to worry about Slip Steps. and occasionally in the Linear Form. and it can be very useful for changing direction. as a way of twisting out of an attempted arm lock to set up a shoulder strike or throw (White Ape Builds a Nest). but not the other. Various methods are strung together in straight lines and turn periodically after having gone to one or more corners. which requires that your weight stays on the rear leg to facilitate speedy footwork and to allow for sudden kicks. The front foot slides. narrow Bow Stances and follow-stepping are more commonly used. What I call the “Swing Step” is occasionally used in the Circular and Linear Forms. also known as the Snake or Mud Step. being concerned with practical martial usage. or foot. targeted at lower shin and ankle height. moving heel and toe together. It can add a great deal of torque to your pulling action if you have grabbed the opponent’s wrist. It is essential to lift and place the entire foot as a unit. as in certain postures of the Circular Form. What I call the “Screwing Step” is used in the Circular Form. and it is very important to feel as if the hands lead in attempting this kind of directional change. and the rear leg kicks forward and pauses before the entire process is repeated so that the feet are pushed forward by the turning of the hips. so it is worth focusing a lot of effort to get. shin. The footwork is easier and more practical in martial terms.
They are likely to hyper-extend their elbow joints in their zeal or have the energy they generate rebound or get stuck in their own body if they are still a little stiff while moving through the forms. Particularly. try to avoid the common tendency to make the postures look and feel more martial. it can very soon get out of hand in the sense that moving quickly is conducive to striking your forearms and the more vulnerable dimmak points a little too hard. wings outstretched as if sunbathing or displaying for a mate. Similarly. In the absence of qualiﬁed instruction you can sometimes discover the spirit of the movements by taking your cue from the names of the postures. As these forms are meant to be done quickly. Some of the movements are designed to be done in a fa-jing manner. Martial function comes from understanding principles. Focusing too much on such martial intention can lead to a rather mechanical approach to the form.54
One of the many inherent contradictions in an art like bagua is that you should not routinely practise the forms as if imaginary enemies are coming at you from every direction. Pheasant Throws Its Wings denotes a proud bird whose head is turned over its shoulder. I would recommend practising each method or change for several weeks—if not months—before moving onto the next posture or change. and culture. For example. If you tense up when speeding up to strike. It also helps to train with a partner who is watching the videos as well. you cannot really learn the right timing for each posture without at least having a rough idea of what you are doing martially in each case. shield. But such interpretations are easy to get wrong if you don’t already have a strong background in the Chinese martial arts. Oh. it is not a good idea to wiggle or twist excessively when doing fa-jing although this is often the initial natural result of starting to loosen the waist. not faster. as well as cause mental tension. but it is also a good practice for beginners to avoid using power and vigour in an attempt to make the movements of the form look and feel more martial and enjoy instead the movements for their own sakes. or heavy bag so that there is something to absorb whatever power you are capable of.… Expressing Power in the Solo forms Except for the ofﬁcial fast or fa-jing movements. the amount of force used is easy to overdo. you will likely make your progress slower. and practising endlessly with a variety of partners rather than from a mere technical level of solo competency. if you are learning from Erle’s videos almost exclusively.
. Martially. relearning how to stand and move. Conversely. Real fa-jing is subtle and comes from the convergence of a number of skills and physical attributes—it is not just being rubbery. language. striking the air is problematic for most beginner and intermediate levels practitioners. and even if your aim is accurate. Fa-jing practice with any intensity should be saved for practising on a mitt. Two sets of eyes and two brains are usually better at sorting out what is happening on the screen and in your practice sessions. It is easy to get injured if you are striking your own elbow joints instead of the ﬂeshy part of the muscles of the upper forearm. and you will need someone to practise the applications with.
remember that the postures within each change don’t ﬂow one into the other. practise with smoothness and ﬂuidity in mind.
. Again. especially if you are only working from videos or have infrequent access to a good bagua instructor. to ingrain the proper basic body mechanics of walking and the details of the postures within the forms themselves. This helps to teach the students learning the form where the martial “chunks” are.THE EMPTY-HAND SOLO FORMS
Using the eyes
Be aware that the eyes always follow the active hand in solo practice. It has also been my experience over the years that intermediate level students tend to have trouble with the idea of paying attention to what they are doing once they have learned the forms physically well enough so that they can practise more or less automatically. Many of the spinning or turning postures will be easier if you use a little speed while trying to learn how to use them. It is not just a question of moving around a circle—sometimes you are working to the centre. preferably every day. and the head. It is also true that the eyes must be lively. if not years. If the performer has presence and is attentive of what he or she is doing when practising a form. It is worth repeating that part of what makes bagua an internal system is the attention that must be paid to being attentive in one’s practice. However. You can use more speed while moving though the postures that make up each change. it is better to try and do the movements in a relatively slow and mechanical manner. Once you have mastered these. I think that it is very important to take your time learning this form. and it is possible to try to do the movements too slowly. sometimes obliquely to the circle itself. it is useful advice to remember to practise relatively slowly. Walk slowly and evenly between the changes in the Circular Form. both eyes. then it can be assumed that the form is being approached with some quality in mind and in a traditional manner. or just going through the motions. Pacing It can take many months. it is better to focus your full attention on that one repetition rather than to do them several times in a row while daydreaming. There are subtle and less subtle pauses at the end of each martial set. Similarly. the pace of the Linear Form is variable in the sense that it can be done very quickly or relatively slowly. Frequency/Intensity of Practice It should go without saying that it is essential to practise the forms regularly. In the beginning. if you want to see progress! However. Being attentive both visually and mentally is essential. and to get them ready to practise interactively with each other. This implies that you have to know where you are going in a visual sense. although this is not Yang Style Slow Form practice. but never as slowly as the Yang Style Slow Form. I have seen some beneﬁt to practising this form by stopping at the end of each individual ﬁghting method while going quickly and smoothly through each method. You should lead the spins and major directional changes with the mind.
the elbows with the knees.56
Daydreaming or not paying attention tends to settle into their daily practice. if you pay attention to each movement and posture of the forms or techniques you are practising. you will have a constant expression of the Three Harmonies. so to speak. The experts would argue that if you have been taught well and are trying to practise well. The Three External Harmonies are the co-ordinated expression of the Yi in that the hands are co-ordinating with the feet. and the shoulders with the hips. while quality of attentiveness goes out the door. In other words. Possession of this quality has two complimentary aspects: the Internal Harmonies refer to the Xin (heart/desire for action) being in accord with the Yi (intent/the will to act). especially when moving quickly. These are important considerations for modern students. the Three Internal Harmonies are about having a clear purpose in each aspect of your practice and of being truly attentive. no matter what the main focus (combative. also called the Three Co-ordinations. in your movement and postures when doing any internal art. Perhaps. Conversely. those who choose to compete tend to argue that physical prowess and ﬂexibility are at least as important as anything else. the Yi harmonising with the Qi (internal energy) which transmits that intent. Aesthetics vs Function I have often been told and read that “real” martial artists think that training to make their forms and postures look aesthetically appealing is a waste of time that could be better spent doing more conditioning exercises or practising combative methods. To put it more simply. in turn. competitive) is in your training. Many of us don’t live in an area where the weather permits year-round outdoor practice. and an investigation of this issue should start with the concept of expressing the Three Harmonies. If this happens. The circle walking and circular forms are marginally more economical of space than the linear and weapons forms. There are no easy answers to this dilemma. the movement of your body and spirit will be attractive from a visual perspective to the casual and the trained observer because you will be harmonious. and that relaxation. you are co-ordinating the internal with the external. sensitivity and a calm mind are ultimately more important than strength and athletic ability. Finally. and this is the key aim in any internal training.
. those who prefer the more genteel approach tend to argue that the movements should be beautiful. and. Who is correct? I don’t think that there is a simple answer.… Space Considerations One of the curses of many of the traditional forms for modern practitioners is the amount of clear space needed to practise—your living room usually won’t do. this is an attitude to hold onto to help you focus on your daily training to make it really worthwhile. It is a waste of time to start learning forms that you can never practise properly for lack of space to do so. lifting knees. which then harmonises with the Li (power/the actual physical expression of the posture). graceful. Doing a form competently should always feel and look to an observer like you are doing it well for the ﬁrst time or the last. spiritual. and kicking preclude practising on snowy/muddy/icy surfaces. Quality over quantity.
as to martial function. it is important to remember that such skill does not come automatically just because you can express the Three Harmonies through your solo practice! You cannot learn interactive ﬁghting/pushing skills without practising such methods with a variety of partners under competent supervision. To compound the issue. So. It is also true that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Strangely enough. Symmetry also implies that quite often both hands and arms will ﬁnish holding the same posture even though only one was being used actively at the end of the application. as it lessens the chance of overworking and stressing one side of the body. And real combative skills have to be harsh and simple to be effective. and vice versa. but the application itself will suffer. there is no need for us to feel inferior because we cannot necessarily reach such heights. It only means that you focus on the whole body usage that makes the most of your strong side. whether beginner or expert. Of course. However. to focus on using your dominate side. and co-ordinated to defend yourself). this is a difﬁcult concept to get as common sense might argue that theatrical gymnastics and expansive movements are better suited to competition routines than ﬁghting. Human beings. with few exceptions. perhaps. cannot learn to be equally ambidextrous.
. and you may. There is also the issue of symmetry that relates both to the beauty and martial function. And even the simplest and harshest combative action can be done so well so that it appears magically easy. smooth.e. Bagua normally takes the approach that it is essential to practise the forms in a symmetrical manner. as each of us can strive to demonstrate.. However. the types of physical skills necessary to do Chinese Opera or compete in a kung-fu/taiji tournament in forms are the foundation of combative training (i. However.THE EMPTY-HAND SOLO FORMS
Strangely enough. this does not mean that you ignore your left side if you are righthanded. you have to be strong. Don’t take my word for it—experiment for yourself. These inspirational demonstrations of the Three Harmonies in action have periodically reminded me of why I am still doing this marvellous nonsense after so many years of training and teaching. I know. Anyone. and others. each change in the Circular Form and every ﬁghting method will be practised on both sides of the body. that same expression of the Three Harmonies in our own daily practice. and it seems like a waste of time to try to do so. Tim Cartmell. it makes more sense. can appreciate the inherent quality of movement and presence when a master does form the way it should always look (and so rarely does). Sam Masich. healthy. as well as motivated by a uniﬁed spirit and intent. not only does the posture look wrong to the practised observer if there is not such symmetry. this is also the foundation for effective ﬁghting as you can’t defend yourself against a committed and skilful attacker unless your body is balanced. each according to his or her ability and interest. have to be male to appreciate the beauty in combat between skilled opponents. especially in terms of making the most of your practice sessions. and harmonious. I was telling a colleague of mine recently that the highlights of my three decades of martial arts training have been seeing the occasional example of outstanding skills done by masters like Erle Montaigue. Any posture/method from bagua will work against a variety of attacks on the open and the closed sides—if you understand it well enough.
not a quick trip to McDonalds! Many modern sport martial artists. Just be careful that your forms don’t become meaningless dances. But mastery of any traditional internal art is a life long journey. solo forms are the martial “short hand” of bagua practitioners and provide a way of remembering. It has so many methods. and teaching your vocabulary of techniques in the long run. The Linear Form is even more tedious to learn. especially if you consider how low many modern bagua teachers have drifted in terms of their potential martial effectiveness anywhere except with their own students in a classroom setting. and applications. forms. practising. And there is a lot of truth to this. each must be practised on both sides when doing the form as one long set. as taught by Erle. when approached properly. tend to look down their battered noses at the value of solo forms and deride them as being a waste of time that could be better spent on sparring and conditioning. as well as those who compete in mixed martial arts ﬁghting events.58
It has been my experience that the Circular Form can take almost a year for the average beginner to learn if he or she attends class twice a week.
. However. The three points of the bagua triangle should be: qigong. and that you don’t neglect the other aspects of your training.
WHAT MAKES BAGUA DIFFERENT IN MARTIAL TERMS
As I said in an earlier chapter. the study of mathematics and physics. be patient. This does not mean getting out of the way. When size matters. one of the key tactics (don’t take my word for it. this method works best if you have considerable skill and are not much smaller than the person attacking you. In combat. even those with ﬁghting experience. Of course. where your partner isn’t really following you with the intent to harm you for real. Many people. in many ways. and it always does in self-defence. you will normally begin training the martial methods. The most direct is to attack the aggressor’s arms or legs as he advances to attack you. read Sun Tzu’s Art of War) is to surprise the enemy and do the unexpected. In fact. will ﬁnd it painful and disorienting to have their limbs struck. By then. Getting out of the way in a bagua-like manner implies that you are connected to the opponent with at least one of your forearms or palms and have not moved needlessly out of
. the other bagua approach is to move out of the line of attack to avoid resisting the incoming mass and resultant power and deﬂect it off-course while counter-attacking. Doing so will only work in a classroom setting. but it is less essential than having the three aspects of what I call “The Bagua Triangle. I will tell you the secrets of any aspect of traditional bagua at no extra charge: have good instruction.” In fact. bagua has some rather interesting approaches to combat. you will probably have realised that any aspect of bagua is harder if competently done than it would ﬁrst appear to the uninitiated. Having aptitude is certainly an asset. I will tease you a little by hinting here that understanding triangulation is also the secret of understanding the famous circularity of bagua whose study is. train hard while paying attention to the quality of that practice—not just how many hours you put into one session.Chapter Four
Fundamentals: Basic Martial Training
Once you have been practising the qigong and studying the solo forms for some time.
Erle teaches three main versions of the palm strike for slightly different martial purposes. By the way. You have access and opportunity to attack his vulnerable areas. it will often be very difﬁcult to do. Stepping diagonally backwards is a second-class option that only works under certain situations. and sometimes you have no choice. If you are technically far superior to your opponent. But. If you’re not more skilled than the larger or heavier opponent. It is also important to remember that bagua is an art that uses the open hand in preference to the ﬁst—particularly when attacking the head. riding around the wagon train that had pulled into a defensive circle in bad Western movies? Circle stepping in any context teaches you about getting out of the way properly. which are very strong and bony joints. If your opponent is bigger and stronger. The rationale is that all your opponent has to do against a closed ﬁst attack is duck a few inches. as well as the option to escape if need be. In addition. become preferable for these reasons. his greater reach and greater mass in motion make it unlikely that you will prevail. Getting back to the original idea of having two major approaches to dealing with an attack. not to the sides or directly forward. In order to end a ﬁght you need to dominate the opponent. stronger and technically sound. It is also important to remember the difference between working on the open and the closed sides of an opponent. the open hand can be used to grasp vital points or lock up the key joints of the limbs. When ﬁghting on the inside. the bigger and stronger ﬁghter usually wins. This is why when two people ﬁght. palm strikes. These are the most common injuries faced by Western boxers despite having taped their hands and wearing gloves. Finally. you have superior positional advantage to take the opponent down without much struggle. but each of the two forms contains one closed ﬁst technique to remind us that this weapon can be useful under certain situations and cannot be ignored completely. you should always assume that your hypothetical opponent is dangerous. he has much less access to yours. you will learn to do both types of tactics in your training sessions even though a much smaller person would be best to use only the avoidance method when dealing with a larger attacker. moving forward diagonally is what makes you look as if you have circled around your opponent to be in the position of advantage behind him or her. It also means that you move diagonally forward.
. and that having superior skills may be the only way you can win the encounter.60
range. The other common problem is landing your closed ﬁst on an opponent’s elbows if he covers his ribs effectively with elbows. The bagua style we follow favours open hand techniques. With considerable time and practice. or those using the heel of the hand. Ideally. you can most likely put him down despite a signiﬁcant size or weight difference. the opposite does not hold true. or has some practical skills himself. You didn’t really believe that walking the circle meant that you would circle the opponent like the Indians. your opponent has just as much access and opportunity to attack your vulnerable areas as you have to attack his. if you are behind or outside your opponent’s arms. Done smoothly and competently. not about walking around in circles. and you will end up connecting with his skull with a real danger of breaking your ﬁngers or wrist.
Don’t blame him if you disagree with what you read. my interpretation of the forms and methods that do come from Erle. that I focus on being a ﬁrst-rate Michael Babin rather than a second-rate Erle Montaigue.BASIC MARTIAL TRAINING
The funny footwork used in the Slip Step is also a way of training the martial use of your own feet and shins as offensive and defensive tools. it will be hard to gain more than a superﬁcial understanding of the following text. Before beginning any martial training it is a good idea to get the torso and limbs warmed up. without doubt.
THE BASIC MARTIAL CURRICULUM
Developing some competency in the following training methods is essential if you hope to begin understanding bagua as a martial art. If you are using these exercises as a way of preparing for qigong. form work. reﬂect both my own aptitudes and inadequacies. The text on each is designed to supplement. If you are reading this and have never had my guidance or that of a competent bagua instructor. with hands doing the necessary martial work. but don’t think
. then I would recommend that you start with Shaking the Body and then follow the order shown below. as I continued to train and develop my understanding of taiji and bagua. One of the hallmarks of bagua is the way in which a practitioner uses his or her feet while doing toe-in steps. Basic Warm-up Methods The following exercises are all used in traditional bagua styles. or what I have taught you! The forms and methods are listed in the order you would normally learn from me. Consequently. I make no apologies for being vague or incomplete in my advice on these various methods. the guidance of competent one-on-one instruction. it will be more difﬁcult for the aggressor to continue their attack effectively. and not replace. I have picked them up from a variety of sources (workshops and videos). Similarly. whether he or she is in the WTBA or not. although none come from Erle Montaigue. If you have been doing standing qigong ﬁrst. I have tried my best to remain true to Erle’s instruction while blending in methods from other instructors that seemed useful. it is smart to do a little cooling down with a few of these exercises or whatever stretches you may prefer. when you have ﬁnished such training. Alan Weiss. or martial principles. then you should do them in the order shown. or martial training. In this context. Consequently. starting with Holding Up the Heavens and ﬁnishing with Shaking the Body. The same applies if you are kicking their shins. to trap an attacker’s legs and balance whenever possible while in close range. I have tried to live by some very good advice I received from one of my former taiji instructors. stepping on their feet or striking the vulnerable areas of the inside and outside of their knees while doing toe-out steps. He suggested. If you are crowding an attacker without tensing up or losing your balance. These exercises are designed to strengthen and loosen the body and teach particular body mechanics. Some of them also introduce speciﬁc jings.
or holding the breath. but not locked. Pressure is taken off the heart and lungs by opening the chest cavity. Exhale while rolling and wrapping the left
. palms up. Please ensure that you don’t accidentally hold your breath for extended periods.62
of these as being techniques. Push them up until your arms are straight. Exercise One: Holding Up the Heavens/Strengthens the Spine and Arms. Don’t lean too far forward when in the Bow Stance. With your knees straight. Step to the side with the left foot into a moderate Horse Stance and position your arms as if you were holding a beach ball in front of the torso. arms as well. Try not to lean to the side. And even at a moderate speed. Always begin with the quiet standing posture before stepping out to the left side with the left foot. pushing your interlocked hands straight up over your head. a natural abdominal lift is created. as you do so. Gently exhale and relax the stomach muscles and. Circle the hands in a counter-clockwise fashion while shifting the weight forward and back. with the left hand underneath and the right hand above. Reverse that to return to the quiet standing posture. always lengthening up. and that your hips do not move. but with the hands “grinding” in a clockwise fashion. shoulders and sides of the torso. doing too many repetitions. Keep lengthening up. Relax. If you ﬁnd that you get breathless doing any of these. Exercise Two: Rotating the Grindstone/Co-ordinating Posture and the Bow Stance. Lack of oxygen leads to muscle tension. They are ways of starting to understand bagua principles that apply to both self-healing and the combat methods. Repeat on the right. and vice versa. let the body turn to the left. As you do this. exhale as you go forward. Exercise Three: Bending the Heavenly Stem/Stretches and Strengthens the Lower Back and Legs. Don’t bend and straighten your elbows once you are “holding onto the grindstone. Also be sure that you do not collapse or slump as you exhale.” The idea is to use the co-ordinated movement of your waist and spine to move your arms in the required pattern. which tones the abdominal walls. Be sure that you have the feeling of lengthening up. in front of the waist and raise the hands slowly until the palms turn to face upwards when the backs of the hands are directly above the top of the head. Inhale. let your hands drop slowly to the sides while maintaining feeling of extension to your ﬁngertips. Inhale as you come back. Repeat to the right side. The internal organs are also gently massaged by the rhythmic breathing. Don’t do these exercises too slowly or too quickly. inhale while letting the stomach muscles gently contract inward and upwards. Remember to keep the hips from turning. and straighten up as you shift the weight back. as your hands “hold the grindstone” (as if your hands are cupping a stone shaped like a bowl held upside down) at waist height. Do an equal number of repetitions on each side. you are probably going too fast. you won’t normally try to co-ordinate your breathing with your actions on a conscious level unless speciﬁcally told to in certain exercises. Exhale slowly. interlace the ﬁngers. letting the stomach muscles gently contract inward as you turn back to face forward. The chest is expanded. and as you do so. Step diagonally to the left. Do four or eight repetitions of each exercise on each side. With the arms lengthening up over the head. and then retract the left foot and hands to the starting spot. Do four or eight repetitions. This gently twists the spine and helps to increase or maintain the elasticity of the spine.
which is a very valuable way of mobilising the momentum of your body weight when you don’t have enough room to step more normally. but instead of holding each side for a certain number of breaths you retract and extend each side alternating from left to right. This method uses the posture recommended for the advanced standing qigong method I described earlier. “Don’t spill your tea” while doing this. and your spine will be as straight as possible. lean forward so that your torso forms a 90 degree angle with your legs. Stepping to the side with the left foot. inhale and then. assume as wide a Horse Stance as possible. This teaches you to do a Changing Step.) As you straighten up. (N. For example. This method is done in a moderate Horse Stance (ma-bu). Your lower back drops. Exercise Four: Wrap & Chop/Trains Co-ordination Between the Upper and Lower Body.
. and to inhale whenever you are straightening. At the end of each swivel.B. Do an equal number of repetitions on each side. Remember to exhale as you bend forward or back. turning smoothly on the heels (don’t let the toes lift too high as you do this). Do an equal number of repetitions on each side. (N. Exercise Five: Twisting the Tea Cups/Trains ﬂexibility in the Arms and Shoulders. this is a traditional. elbows and wrists. the rear hand should feel as if it is holding an opponent’s wrist that you caught after having intercepted a punch with your initial chop. The heavier the object. and you will go a long way to stretching and relaxing your shoulders.B. but remember that your eyes and attention must stay to the front where the opponent would be standing if you were doing this as martial technique. and only the waist and arms will move. and then down to the front before coming back to stop momentarily by the left hip. Shift/swivel from side to side. but be careful that you don’t overdo this. Push the Palms. I have used croquet balls and Bocce balls as improvised bagua spheres. Do an equal number of repetitions on each side. Your right palm will be pushing forward. as you ﬁrst chop with the edge of one hand before “wrapping” the arms and ﬁnishing with a second chop with the other hand. Start on the left side and imagine that you extend your left palm—don’t drop your invisible cup of tea cradled in the palm of that hand—by twisting the wrist so that the ﬁngers go to the left side. I have seen old photos of masters walking the circle while holding and twirling stone balls of impressive sizes. way to practise. Place the left heel back next to the right heel. and the knees and legs do most of the actual work. switching the hands again. the inguinal folds crease. the better the training in terms of building strength and ﬂexibility. appearing to lean back as far as possible as the right hand drops simultaneously.BASIC MARTIAL TRAINING
hand overhead. So. the advanced version of this dictates that you never let one hand rest by the hip while the other moves—both will be constantly moving until you have done an equal number of repetitions on each side. It is important to remember that your torso and arms will have to move faster than your waist and legs if you are to accomplish two chops on each swivel. Allow your head to turn with the torso.) The other way to make your training more challenging is to hold round objects of varying sizes and weights while practising. and then extend the right arm and leg. and then forward and upwards over the head. Your front hand does the ﬁnal damage—feel with the “hammer” portion of the lower outside edge of the Dragon Palm. and challenging. this necessitates that you lift and retract the left foot as you retract the left arm. Keep the chin tucked in at all times. Exercise Six: Changing the Guard/Trains the use of the Changing Step as well as how to use the Palms.
Don’t bend your knees excessively and don’t drop so low that your thighs exceed being parallel to the ﬂoor. or try to co-ordinate it in any way with the shaking and trembling. You can lean forward slightly as you drop. so that you could avoid having it trapped by someone else trying to immobilise your leg with a toe-in stance. As you inhale you will reverse this process and rise up to your original position. Pause for a few moments after completing the previous exercise and. bend both knees slightly and start gently vibrating the body from head to feet. Most are relatively safe and useful methods of training stu-
. Rooting/Grounding Methods (Stationery and Moving) Rooting and sensitivity exercises are essential foundation skills in the martial practice of any internal arts. Particularly in terms of traditional Taoist thought. although they should not become the golden idols. or make contact with your training partner to learn how to apply the postures and principles of an internal art. but since many modern students don’t fall into that category. In addition. Don’t let the latter become violent spams. as long as the spine is straight. This method is done while in a moderate Horse Stance and consists of dropping the torso by bending the knees and folding the inguinal area while exhaling. shaking relaxes the muscles and joints in general. walking in circles any which way. As you do this. This ecercise is relaxing once you get the hang of it.
Sad to say that there are still many internal arts teachers who tell their students that you don’t have to sweat. with arms still hanging at the sides. or hold your breath. which so many modern instructors seem to worship. It helps to regulate glandular function for the purpose of building helth and preventing sexual dysfuncion. palms up.64
It also teaches you to lift your front foot before retracting it. extend your arms forward. I don’t know what is worse: those misguided or fraudulent teachers making money and gratifying their egos by teaching rubbish. Do this for roughly a minute in a continuous manner. and to the height of the shoulders. or the many students who swallow rubbish because they would rather believe that wearing spiffy costumes. Exercise Eight: Shaking the Body/Relaxes the Body and Stimulates the Hormone-producing Organs. In the beginning you may need to start this process by bouncing up and down by alternately bending and straightening the knees.
TWO-PERSON TRAINING METHODS
I shouldn’t have to say this to anyone with any real martial experience. and you don’t incline forwards excessively. You should feel a mild trembling of the muscles and tissues in all parts of the body. the most important hormons are those produced by the sexual organs. Exercise Seven: Rising and Falling/Strengthens and loosens the hips and buttocks. Do an equal number of repetitions on each side. and being able to discuss the I-Ching can compensate for working hard physically. but do not force the mouth to remain closed. Keep the tip of your tongue pressed lightly upwards on the upper palate. and are a little hard of hearing. as these are used in the production of Qi. I will shout:
YOU HAVE TO PRACTISE THE INTERACTIVE METHODS WITH OTHER HUMAN BEINGS TO HAVE ANY HOPE OF LEARNING HOW THEY MIGHT WORK IN A CONFRONTATIONAL SITUATION. or get bruised.
or the abdomen. while creating and maintaining a stable lower centre of gravity in themselves. Try lifting a 30 lb toddler or dog that doesn’t want up. The person reacting to that has to stick to their incoming force and deﬂect it off course as he steps diagonally to the corner or swivel on one leg and move the other. but try to keep it simple and non-competitive. When you do something unexpected. automatically bring self-defence abilities. Isn’t rationalisation wonderful? The exercises that we do are designed to help the student physically understand how important it is to be upright and ﬁrm. Similarly. your partner pushes properly from the waist and with connectivity to the ground while stepping through your space.BASIC MARTIAL TRAINING
dents how to read another person’s body movements through contact. and he or she initiates the movement of each method in this little two-person set—save one. having done so is sound strategy. The person being pushed upon should imagine that they are like a child or pet that resists being picked up by going dead weight. However. The Conditioning Applications Set Both partners start by standing in a moderate Horse Stance (ma-bu is a foundational stance in most forms of Chinese martial arts) and facing each other with their palms pressing down by their hips. while always having the potential for balanced movement. it is essential for instructor and students alike to remember that such games create skills that do not. and experiment with how much force you give your partner.g. Starting this way minimises the chances of accidental contact to the wrong targets. please remember that the other side succeeds by cheating. All the student has to do is stand there without moving with as little physical effort or movement as possible. one student assumes and holds what I call the Guard Posture while his or her partner pushes slowly and a bit stifﬂy (at least until the recipient gets the hang of relaxed heaviness) on either a forearm. One arm comes up to help you deﬂect and keep your partner’s hand away from your torso. yet relaxed. Remember to push and step at the same time. by themselves. That is because their relative relaxation makes it harder for you to ﬁnd the “stiff bits” that can operate as the fulcrum for you to lever them upwards. You should ﬁnd that stepping and pushing stifﬂy makes you fall forward somewhat or lurch if your partner applies the correct pressure and method while swivelling out of the way of your pressure. or simply striking) and you are unable to adapt instantly to such cheating. One person is designated the leader. In regards to the latter. There are a variety of martial applications possible. shoulder. They suddenly feel like they weigh twice or three times there actual weight. which is harder to lift—20 pounds of iron chain or a similar weight of iron plate? In the moving version of this method. They should be positioned just out of punching range for the taller partner. by suddenly moving to get behind you. In one stationary version of this exercise. Being sensitive and having an immovable root can be a liability if your partner doesn’t play by the rules (e. the other pretends to strike the pusher’s torso or head. so that the leader doesn’t get complacent and forget
that there are always exceptions to every rule. rather than confronting it. and I think it is important to be able to do it. Remember to use the waist and hip on the supporting leg to do most of the work. Joining Legs: Each person will stand in front and a little to one side of his partner. It also teaches how to use the most common stepping and directional change methods and to follow properly—not too soon. After having gone around once. and it teaches the student to defend with what I call “grinding power” with the outside of the forearms (primarily Number Four and Number Six palms) while deﬂecting the attack. this exercise strengthens the legs. This is my variation of a common training method for beginners in other styles. particularly the hips. or to evade a head strike from the opponent’s hand. Erle doesn’t emphasise this tactical application. You will discover. on one leg while connecting the outside of the other lifted knee to the outside of his partner’s lifted knee. It is important to lean forward and back without compromising your ability to move or remain in a state of equilibrium. It improves co-ordination and balance—particularly the ability to make vertical circles with the hip being the axis of the wheel. In the beginning it can be a bit of a struggle for both people just to stand there connected without one or both losing their balance. and the exercise can continue this way indeﬁnitely.
. You should connect the wrist/forearm on the same side to your partner’s wrist/forearm.
Vertical Power Exercise: This two person exercise strengthens the legs. vertical power is quite often used to initiate a kick. Remember to take turns leading. especially the ability to use horizontal turning and twisting to deﬂect upper body and low foot attacks. it is very difﬁcult to use the right timing to counter at the correct moment even when you know what the other person will be doing. The heels of both lifted legs should be in contact. not too late—and to use your body to pull. you should switch supporting legs whenever one person falls over or loses the contest. this exercise is a good introduction to learning to take some force with your arms and to not let such impacts affect your mobility or ability to stay functionally relaxed. it is easy to let yourself accelerate and to use too much brute strength. as opposed to learning how to deﬂect or counter by striking when this is appropriate. Do not this exercise for too long at any one time. The goal is for the other person to play “follow the leader” and counter whatever technique or footwork is used against him with the same method. You can lead either with the hand or the hooking leg—but do not let the action become simultaneous. In bagua. particularly the hips. While doing either of the two exercises discussed here. Horizontal Power Exercise: Like the ﬁrst. rather than your arm alone. with both people alternating in the lead role for a preset period of time. but it is common in other competent versions of bagua. As with any basic exercise. even when leaning at weird angles. Although it is not done excessively. the other person can take the leadership role. and improves co-ordination and balance.
To do this. so that one person’s shins are not prematurely bruised or hurt excessively. A certain amount of toughening is good. usually with very little modiﬁcation. The Eight Kicking Methods You must learn a variety of coping methods for dealing with the possibility of low kicks aimed at the feet (the pain can be distracting. You will probably ﬁnd. shins (the pain is distracting). or result in knockout. Try to get used to doing the correct follow-up for each method. but nerve damage or hair-line fractures in the leg bones are not!
. and to use the right method for the appropriate grab. In the beginning. A couple of the methods that I teach are slightly different from those taught by Erle if you refer to his videos or books. Being sensitive to subtle physical cues is an essential aspect of any internal art. however. you should also practise a variety of ways of kicking the attacking leg. Use this to your advantage. Be careful that you don’t use brute force—either as the dummy or the person practising the method. Switch turns and partners frequently. against a variety of common grabs. Try to learn to turn such skills off and on.BASIC MARTIAL TRAINING
There are also ways of practising this where you practise kicking attacks and defences. especially if you have learned elsewhere to grip strongly despite being relaxed. Remember to stretch the Dragon Palms when your partner starts to squeeze/grab your arm. as you develop some skill. as you don’t do the less experienced student any favours by making it harder than necessary for him or her to explore each of the eight basic wrist releases. At the highest levels you attack when kicked or move the target leg out of harm’s way. Also be careful when in the dummy role that you don’t remain too relaxed. as on the street this would normally be an unconscious and unintended warning signal that the grabber is about to hit you with the other hand. not just those you are accustomed to. In the beginning it is okay to hold each other’s wrists to help maintain balance. or sweep you to the ground). or a locked-out knee makes it liable that you be thrown or imbalanced). the student needs some stiffness in the grab to be able to make it work relatively easily. your attention must be focussed on “listening” at the point of contact. With competence and long term training. you will ﬁnd that each method can be used. The Eight Wrist Releases This is basic training on using the Eight Mother Palms to defend against a passive grab by your partner. that it becomes a natural reaction to start countering whatever is being done to you. but that is more suited to advanced students and resembles in some ways the “sticky legs” exercises used in some Chen Styles and in some Wing-Chun variations. or at the knees (a shattered joint makes it hard to continue a ﬁght. That’s what this little four-method exercise is for. Remember to swivel on the ball of the supporting foot in order to gain short-range power for some of the kicks. It is wise for the “attacker” to wear good quality shin pads even if you have reasonably good control of how hard you strike.
It is an indication of your level of development as to how well you remember the part of the form you know from class to class. unless both participants are of equal size and skill—incorrectly in the sense of not going too fast or using explosive energy. I have mixed feelings about sparring or applications sets. forgetting the next move might mean that you get hit in the nose by accident. as is often the case. Two-person sets. You are unlikely to encounter them in the present day. even in friendly training. it is also true that ﬂowing from one technique to the other requires that neither partner ever ﬁnishes a technique.
. This means that you must have basic skills at the solo and interactive methods to be able to retain any of it between practice sessions. In fact. you may never actually get a feel for how each method could work if it wasn’t countered skilfully. if two-person sets become a choreography. then the martial lessons to be learned tend to be superﬁcial. most modern students seem to need the structure to make progress even though most have trouble transcending it. it may be many months before you can use more speed and power safely. Pay attention to the following points when practising Hammer Hands: • In keeping with the often encountered tradition in the Chinese internal arts. in some ways. unlike a solo form. When accidents such as those just mentioned happen. Conversely. this form is not learned solo ﬁrst and then practised with a partner—you can only do it with an instructor or a peer. do many of the speciﬁc techniques incorrectly for your partner’s safety. It is also easy for such sets to become an overly choreographed ritual which brings a false sense of security as to your self-defence ability.68
HAMMER HANDS APPLICATIONS SET
This training method is a bit more complex than the Conditioning Set and I have named it Hammer Hands in honour of Erle. Some that I have seen in other styles of bagua are ridiculous in the complexity of their movement or require a level of co-operation from your partner that would merit an Academy Award for acting. but work best against attacking methods common in the China of a century ago. competent examples can provide a real challenge to the intermediate level student as. whether simple or complex. If you don’t have competent instruction. you must. Others are simple in design. whose hands certainly can feel like hammers when he uses them against you. • Train slowly at ﬁrst with light touch contact. it is good to have developed the ability to use controlled contact. and learning applications on a body level instead of as an intellectual abstraction. I have always found it interesting in my own students that those who take most naturally to free sparring of any kind usually have the least patience or aptitude for structured two-person exercises. maintaining the concept of sustained effort for technique after technique without becoming breathless or stiffening your movements. act as a martial bridge for many students to bring them to the edge of spontaneity in a martial sense. In relation to this caveat. On the other hand. However.
how to get them there using bagua principles. Use care when doing them. complicates and changes your feel for the mechanics of each posture. if you don’t have to worry about harming your partner. or conditioned reﬂex—call it what you like). as well as the angle and complexity of attack. In the long run. even though your sparring partner should! • Most of what seem to be blocks are meant to be striking deﬂections aimed at vital points of the anatomy—use care when doing them. each will also have countless variations depending on the skills and strengths of the practitioner. to learn any on a meaningful martial level. • Most of what seem to be pulling movements are really negative strikes. I believe that each posture has one or more interpretations as a defence against either being struck or grabbed. rather than running away from it. even if it is only a mental understanding. • Most of the interactions can easily be divided into a defensive part and a counteroffensive part—but remember that the majority are really one action when done well or explosively. Now you really begin to learn where your hands and feet should be at any one time. • Whenever your feet are together. however. so that he or she doesn’t know for sure which direction your next step will be. Remember that there is really no one interpretation of each method (although some experts would. you should look double-weighted but not be that way. even when done slowly and carefully. Try to pick methods that cover attacks from the most common angles and from both the right and left sides. as you can give them whiplash (in martial sense) if he is stiff. However. The combative idea is to try and deceive your opponent. as opposed to learning many applications on a superﬁcial level. argue with this). but be very careful when training with a partner.
I have mentioned how important it was to develop some concept of what each posture means on a martial level. no doubt. and how to relax under pressure. you will have to isolate and practise individual techniques many times with a variety of training partners.
. and practise them on your own and with a partner. This small arsenal can eventually become internal (or instinctive. any martial skill you develop will result from internalising the principles and a few techniques. and at a variety of intensities as your understanding and skills develop. or subconscious.BASIC MARTIAL TRAINING
• Many of the better defensive methods will only work easily when you learn to move away from the incoming force only as much as necessary. Such interaction. If you can eventually make them work while being attacked with some speed and power then you’re on the right track. One way to do this is to select a few postures from the solo form(s) that you do particularly well or like the most.
and makes the bag shudder in a different way than the second method. Still. It has a distinctive sound as well. A traditional way of practising striking was to practise on a tree trunk.70
Learning How to Strike with the Palms
One of the problems with learning the basic martial usage of the various palm shapes is the natural tendency to conﬁne your practising to “striking the air” while doing forms. with the ﬁngers and edges of the hand forming a hollow in the palm. you will know. or on a heavy pole that had been sunk into the earth for that purpose. In fact all of these also create a natural progression in learning how to use greater and greater amounts of power in your palm strikes while also maintaining the integrity of the various methods themselves. as doing it successfully implies that you are able to do the second method well in the ﬁrst place. or done while circling a heavy bag. sharper popping sound on impact. or makiwara. or with little or no contact on a training partner. As with any aspect of learning to apply your martial skills in a potentially effective manner from a self-defence point of view. to learn how to efﬁciently and safely strike with the open hands. When done on a focus mitt. you cannot ignore the necessity of learning how to do
. it is best to learn and practise them under the supervision of someone who can actually do them with some skill and grace. • The ﬁrst is a strike with the heel of the palm driven with the weight of the body. and makes a louder. padded or otherwise. or a training partner wearing body armour so that he or she can be safely struck. As with all such training methods. and must do so largely on your own.” although making the requisite shape for his wooden man would not be easy unless you are a skilled woodworker. There was also a supposedly advanced way of practising. Erle also teaches and has videos on the use of what he calls the “bagua wooden man. the methods he teaches for use on this apparatus can be adapted for use on a wing-chun wooden man. When done properly. it is impossible. and the heavy bag tends to shudder rather than swing. as well as a subtle shifting of weight. and the third is the hardest to generate. a heavy bag. not just difﬁcult. this causes great movement in the heavy bag and makes a dull noise on impact. but then the palm thrusts forward once the edge of the hand and ﬁngers make contact. I recommend the videos if you are interested in training how to strike. if you don’t practise making contact with a target of some kind— whether that target is a focus mitt. Unfortunately. is driven more with the use of the waist. All three methods are worthwhile from a martial perspective. you are getting somewhere when the impact of the last two seems to penetrate the padding even though you are not winding up from a great distance to generate momentum. percussive and penetrating. • The third method begins like the second. or practising individual methods by yourself. • The second. in which the bagua student navigated around and through a pattern of such posts (often called Nine Palace Training) while practising a prearranged or spontaneous pattern of strikes on the hard resilience of the posts. It is useful to think of palm strikes as falling into three categories: blunt impact. a padded shield.
you may be able to strike like a battering ram or with the force of a whip. The idea is to push. As long as you move relatively slowly. Let me put it simply. how hard and how well you can hit. The idea is not to force the person to move. then your palm striking ability won’t do you much good. From a mechanical point of view alone. height. I think of the
. however. or lure the other person into being obliged to move their feet without the “doer” moving their feet. This use of timing and distancing is very difﬁcult to learn. but if you can’t get within the correct range to do so without being blown out of the water by the other fellow. Rattan escrima batons make good sticks for this exercise. except passively. It is also useful to have one partner do all of the attacking while the other can only redirect the incoming force and not counter-attack. Using this stance limits how much you can cheat by using your leg muscles to compensate for a lack of use of the waist and hips to control the knees. It is also useful to practise uprooting while using a short stick. it is good practice to try to use the stick as a lever in locking out your partner’s arms if you can do this safely. In other words. Joining Arms This can be the most basic way of learning to apply bagua type martial methods. striking properly is one factor among many that have to be trained and fall into place before you can be as effective a martial artist as your potential allows. They are the correct length and light enough so that you don’t have to worry as much about accidental contact. it can take some pain and bruising to learn how to strike with an open hand without bruising your own bones or straining your wrists and elbows—even when doing it on a target that doesn’t ﬁght back. Uprooting should be approached as a game in which you try to help each other to fall over or move the feet. as well as ultimately the most advanced method. each person is double-weighted). and weight until some real yielding and redirecting skills are formed. Ideally. pull. and tends to take the longest to learn unless you are born with considerable aptitude for such martial attributes. It is also important to remember.BASIC MARTIAL TRAINING
your strikes on a target that resists—in some way—the impact. Uprooting Exercises This exercise begins with two partners facing each other at arm’s length while standing in a moderate Horse Stance (feet shoulder width apart and. the idea is to get possession of the stick while ideally making the other person lose their balance and move his or her feet at the same time. ultimately depends on how well you can reposition your body in relation to the opponent just before striking them. or for failing to shift from side to side properly to help your upper body efforts. Practising this way. in the beginning. both partners must have considerable skill to avoid injuring each other while still practising in a meaningful manner. but to guide them into such a position that they would move their feet or topple over. both partners should be of the same sex. Then they can switch roles for an equal amount of time. Practising with a stick is a quick way to learn how counterproductive it can be to not be able to switch grips quickly and smoothly.
Let the leg move with the impact if you are struck.
As with all training. use care when striking the vulnerable parts of the legs to defend. some styles use this as their primary or alternative means of changing direction while walking the circle. you will cross the circle to attack/defend. properly taught and practised. Doing this means using what I call the Moving Through Step. eventually you can also use kicks to attack and defend. this is the best. subtlety can be mastered by only the most dedicated and persistent students of the art. Whatever footwork method you use. Sometimes neutralising. Fortunately. Remember that you must never strike offensively or defensively with the wrists as you will only injure yourself or your partner). as opposed to staying a safe distance away on the circumference. etc. as this minimises the chance of injury to anything except the wrists and forearms (N. it is to keep moving and to attack when it is time to attack. short people can learn to use a low centre of gravity to get inside a taller person’s reach. but it is is difﬁcult to subdue him with subtlety.” or Bagua Push Hands). Eventually. sometimes leading aside. take turns so that one person always has the attacking role for a prearranged amount of time. In this regard. In other words—timing and distance appreciation. baguazhang is an insurance policy that also pays the dividends of physical and emotional good health. slim people can learn to use their ﬂexibility to even greater effect. way of attacking the other person. Finally. it is important to practise with a variety of partners: tall people can learn to use the reach of their long arms even more effectively. In Joining Arms practice (sometimes called rou-shu. and not get too close unless you are doing so. as his advice is pertinent to this chapter and to the next: “The ultimate bagua. it involves matching the ﬁne variations of pressures of the opponent with near-imperceptible neutralisation and redirection. few of us will ever have to use our martial skills for anything more demanding than friendly practice.B. However. In the beginning. which literally takes you through your partner’s attack into and through the centre of the circle. However. redirecting and turning it back against the opponent who originated the force. If there is one secret to doing this exercise. In the beginning. heavy people can learn to use their mass even more effectively. to end up on the other side. no martial training can guarantee that you will be able to successfully defend yourself against any aggressor.72
Conditioning Set and Hammer Hands as being two initial rungs up the ladder to understand circling your partner while joining arms. though riskiest. In addition. such training should give you a ﬁghting chance and. go with it. It involves reﬁned
. either person can attack at will. Don’t resist the impact. It is far easier to to use obvious or brute force to beat an opponent. I would like to quote from John Bracy’s excellent book on bagua. or “soft hands. Eventually. What is meant by subtlety? It is the art of using the slightest touch. like any internal martial art. involves employing subtle pressures and leverages to subdue an opponent. In solo practice. you only use inside and outside changes.
staying calm under pressure and direction the situation by the power of one’s will.”
. Thus the higher level requires study of the mind and the nervous system.BASIC MARTIAL TRAINING
skills of becoming sensitive.… This is the superior man’s way to know and ultimately defeat an opponent.
And. they lie in mastering the following aspects of your training and
. having found this role model. Beware of teachers who say or imply that their bagua style has the secrets of combat that can be learned in a few easy lessons. The secret to really learning to apply your bagua in a self-defence situation lies in incorporating some hard to ﬁnd traditional training methods in your practice. being able to defend yourself against a skilful and aggressive opponent—whether or not he has a size advantage—is a different matter. it is also important to remember that bagua started out as an effective combative art—and not as qigong for health. you train under his supervision until you can copy what he has taught and demonstrated easily. It also follows that. if there are any simple steps to developing this potential to defend yourself in a bagua-like manner. in your heart as the courage and will to persevere in your efforts. in which case you might be able to use your bagua skills in class against one of your peers or against an unskilled attacker on the street. we are likely to get the most from our training on all levels if we stay true to the roots of the discipline. another secret lies in ﬁnding a teacher these days who can really apply any or all of the traditional training methods in anything like a realistic combative manner. In other words. but the longer I train the more I realise that it is very difﬁcult to train safely and easily in a manner that can bring effective self-defence skills.Chapter Five
Beyond the Martial Basics
Let’s assume that you have become a somewhat seasoned practitioner. However. All this can lead to an eventual understanding that comes as much from years of experience as it does from intellectual knowledge or solo form practice. And. and in your brain as you try to understand the theoretical underpinnings of bagua as a combative system. and then spend further years perfecting the various skills and attributes with a variety of partners and on your own. I don’t want to sound pessimistic. while you can certainly enjoy and beneﬁt from your training on many levels without being able to defend yourself against such an opponent. We will call the ﬁnal product maturity. Such secrets are to be found on your body as beads of sweat. Of course.
Like any other aspect of your training. The initial strangled squeaks and grunts tend to provoke laughter more than anything else in a training room. you have lost much of its ability to focus your muscles and weight in support of the martial action. it is not too much of a stretch to describe qigong as representing wuji. with a little practice. The difference it makes to the speed and power of your movement can be quite spectacular. In normal respiration.” which implies that you are too much like a rubber ball) the abdomen and tan-tien. the resulting sound should be relatively quiet. The use of breathing to increase your focus is nothing new—ask any weight lifter. most modern martial artists no longer are exposed to such concepts or. and the sound itself has shock value against your opponent—often even if he or she is half-expecting you to yell. you should practise with some volume. It can increase the power and speed of your strikes signiﬁcantly. If you make the sound before or after the martial action. which gives birth to the basic martial practices of taiji. slow and even—like the breath itself. acts as a mediator between your intention (Yi) and the Qi. Using a vocalisation to increase your striking power is nothing new either—ask professional tennis players. women and men both tend to resist really letting go of their fear of being noisy in a group setting. For self-healing purposes. However. Traditionally. but eventually the sounds can be as effective without being loud (or even audible) unless you choose to use volume
. to lead the hands to the target. and triggers an explosive expiration while the abdominal area expands suddenly.000 things. and that it. sudden. In general. if they are. leads to the advanced concepts that make up the 10. eventually the letting go process will include being able to HA from the very centre of the tan-tien. I found it very difﬁcult to get used to the concept of making noise as part of my martial methods. It loosens and focuses the abdominal area (muscles and connective tissue) to provide stability and aid in the absorption of blows to the torso. Baguazhang is very much the sum of its individual parts. However. While learning this skill. do not take it seriously. For martial purposes. the HA sound escapes through your mouth and is sharp. not just accompany it. HEN is the gentle.BEYOND THE MARTIAL BASICS
learning how they interact together. in turn. rather drawn out sound you make when inhaling through your nose to “activate” (I prefer that term to “inﬂate. When ﬁrst exposed to this aspect of training. like the eyes. Real martial sound has to slightly lead the physical expression of the HA. you will only be able to understand the martial usage of this by practising under competent supervision. the voice. the diaphragm goes down and causes the lower abdomen to swell during inhalation. so they only make a perfunctory use of sound to accompany techniques. There are several reasons for using the HA sound.
ADVANCED MARTIAL TRAINING
Returning to the subject of advanced martial training. HEN and HA Sounds Superﬁcially.
hence contributing to ﬁrmer stances and more powerful use of the feet and legs. While using this idea when striking someone or being struck yourself. It is also true that some qigong teachers tell their students that women will naturally use reverse breathing all the time as it is natural to their gender or that breathing is not all that important. which can have serious consequences in a ﬁght.76
to provide an element of startle to your tactics. the physical sense of fullness in the tan-tien area can be transmitted down to the legs. However. while during a reverse breath it goes up the back on the exhalation and down the front on the inhalation. Of course. By the way. and the actual physical difference in the way that the Qi circulates may well be purely in the mind. the Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu was thinking partially of this kind of training when he wrote in his famous philosophical treatise Tao Te-Ching that a baby can scream all day without getting hoarse because it breathes naturally and. by implication. a competent practitioner can maintain a sense of root while moving freely. As to reverse breathing. the traditional theory states that your internal energy goes up the back during the inhalation and down the front during the exhalation. It is only on TV and in the movies that the good guy doesn’t get hit. as well as where the psoas muscles connect with the lower back).) If you are exhaling and contracting the abdominal area while ﬁghting. Anyone who has been around infants and toddlers will know the truth of this. even from a traditional point of view.… Reverse Breathing I’ve already touched on this in the previous topic. (N. and come from the lower torso and the tan-tien rather than from the upper chest or throat. being rooted does not mean that you are planted in the ﬂoor. you are in for trouble if punched well. this results in having insufﬁcient muscle power to do the work at hand. a well trained bagua practitioner feels as if the upper part of his or her body is ﬂuid and relatively light. In the beginning don’t do too many at one time. Of course. Perhaps.
. has much to do with visualisation. In natural breathing. or effortlessly shrugs off the effects of repeated blows. it is also essential to learn how to use this type of breath automatically. as your throat may get hoarse if you overdo the volume of the shouting and don’t get it right. Make sure that the shouts are short and sharp. Thus. without tension.B. as it can save you from having the wind knocked out of you if you are hit with any power in some parts of the front of the torso. by using the mind. this type of breathing is essential to learning contact martial stills and so deserves further elaboration. this is complicated because your torso—except for the point of contact—must remain relatively relaxed to avoid causing your structure to topple or affect your balance. while his legs are heavy and ﬁrmly rooted to the ﬂoor without being rigid. Let’s be pragmatic and use the analogy of pushing a car: if you don’t breathe properly while exerting physical effort (some teachers refer to this as having insufﬁcient “pneumatic pressure” in the core muscles of the torso—particularly in the abdominal area. The goal is to have air in you at point of impact and your torso not in a contracting phase. this process also.
In the long run. it is important to consider that these were notes for experienced students who already knew how to apply all or most of these skills in a martial context. if at all.” The development of these essential energies requires competent hands-on instruction as well as good training partners with whom you practise in a controlled manner on a regular basis. as the meaning can vary depending on how you pronounce it or the context in which it is used. This word can mean “sperm. these interrelated skills must be so automatic that they are done by your body and mind in the correct sequence. and as the martial situation demands. These texts were not designed to be instructions for beginners.” or “the vital life force contained in hormones. rather than being just a basic choreography.BEYOND THE MARTIAL BASICS
Reading any of the taiji. I think it makes better sense for the average modern practitioner to stop obsessing about learning dozens of separate jings and only distinguish a few key ones. more intellectual ones tend to assume that being able to go through the motions of circling their hands and bodies in a connected manner with a partner is somehow enough to stop a real punch. Ting Jing
Ting (“listening”) jing is the most basic of the necessary skills and one of the most elusive martially. ﬁtter students tend to substitute speed and power as soon as they feel threatened. you can only react. and such a teacher would not have imagined—or desired—that his words would reach a modern Western audience. Remember that an opponent who is charging you swinging wildly and powerfully. or launching a surprise attack. Consequently. is not going to give you much time or space to react with any of these speciﬁc jings! Martially. In practice. after many years of practice. Younger. bagua. You can not think or plan your way out of a real combative situation.” It is also essential to remember that in the older texts the author meant his words to be read only by his family members or senior students and perhaps by their eventual senior students. when the average modern student reviews these lengthy lists of jings. but this is an elusive skill that comes. What is
. actual physical contact becomes less and less essential. it is impossible to do many of the described jings in isolation. Those readers also understood how the various jings interacted and supported each other from practical combative experience. while older. The word itself can be confusing. and hsing-i texts that have been translated into English in recent years will reveal a bewildering number of martial jings that apparently have to be understood by the internal arts practitioner.” or “a skilful physical application of the body and mind.
Remember that listening requires you to be able to survive the initial attack and successfully make contact with the opponent rather than being overwhelmed by that contact. The few real internal martial experts I have met seem to focus more on teaching their students the basics and encouraging them to understand the martial truth behind “seizing the moment to gain the advantage.
as being able “to fa” is useless without the ability to do the other jings I just listed. it is important to remember that striking in this way is an application of energy rather than one speciﬁc technique although each style or teacher will usually have their preferences for how fa-jing is done and which martial tools are used. It is not just punching suddenly or with a lot of power and speed. One way to deﬁne it is to say that fa-jing is a sudden expression of whole body energy focussed through a part of the body into a precise target area. By the way. has to be seen or felt to be believed. Not surprisingly. space. once two opponents touch. Instead. understand. pragmatically.
. hips and buttocks. or Tim Cartmell. in Western martial arts terms this jing relates to the high-level applications of parrying and deﬂecting force rather than resisting or running away from it.
One of the relevant sayings in the taiji classics is “I know my opponent. they avoid or deﬂect it at the last moment. thrown. Fa-jing
Fa (“explosive” or “attacking”) jing is difﬁcult to learn. it comes at the end of my list of essential jings. It also warrants more explanation than the previous three. and a calm mind. On the other hand. or with their legs. especially when you try to copy the skills and body mechanics of the few real experts who are still around. Hua Jing
Hua (“neutralising”) jing means being able to stick. Again.
Those of you new to bagua may wonder what this mysterious skill actually looks like. however. In other words. resisting force is certainly better than running away—the reason we have such a variety of hard styles that can work effectively against an opponent with lesser or similar skills. or controlled while maintaining your own balance. although a fa-jing strike. the “understanding” one has the skill and experience to listen and interpret whether a loss of balance or a physical technique is a mistake on the other person’s part or a feint to lure them into compromising their tactical position. Dong Jing
Dong (“understanding”) jing is also easy enough to discuss and much harder to practise. but he does not know me. a real expert can express it with their elbows and shoulders. and then deﬂect or neutralise a variety of attacks without using excessive tension or muscle in either your arms or your body while still staying within the correct ﬁghting distance and being able to keep from being struck. listen. as you need the ability to stick and listen with some clarity to begin to realise how hard it is to understand another person’s balance and intention through physical contact. Alan Weiss. In bagua this is usually transmitted physically through the palm.78
comparatively easy to do in a formal exercise in class is much harder to achieve when someone is actually moving in with a real attack. through a head-butt.” This certainly applies to bagua as well. running away from an incoming force does not work in close quarters—that is why the effective internal styles do not pull away from it. when done by someone like Erle Montaigue.
BEYOND THE MARTIAL BASICS
Unfortunately, few experts, much less their students, can strike without “winding up” and still generate impact over the short distances that hand-to-hand combat occupies. In other words, real fa-jing feels short, sharp, powerful, and disorienting to the recipient. By contrast, the one who delivers it appears relaxed, balanced, and calm before, during, and after the delivery of that strike. Real fa-jing skills also involve the use of the mind, the eyes, and the breath (i.e., reverse breathing) in speciﬁc ways. The role of one’s Qi is also vital, but that is beyond the scope of this handbook. Another way to look at fa-jing is to compare it to an external-style strike which in most such styles is delivered with a lot of muscular tension, with the power coming from the shoulders or turning the hips while in a solid stance. The body is more rigid and segmented than in an internal strike. By contrast, fa-jing involves more relaxed power, a sinking of the weight, storing and releasing of energy, shifting of weight, turning and twisting the waist, as well as using the ground connection. The body appears loose and “alive” to the casual observer. See how easy it sounds! In the end, learning to do this should be thought of as an aspect of your martial training and your solo practice. It shouldn’t become an obsession. If you really want the “good oil,” invest in one of Erle’s videos that are devoted to developing this kind of striking ability to get the details that lay the foundation of personal skill. By the way, it is hard to believe until you start experiencing it yourself, but it is actually much harder to control the expression of your fa-jing than it is to develop the ability to generate it. However, doing so is essential if you are to train safely and effectively with your fellow students. Even assuming you can develop this elusive power, note that many internal experts say such training is dangerous, and one can overdo it even knowing how to execute such strikes effortlessly. Some internal martial practitioners and teachers (Liang Shou Yu and Tim Cartmell are two I have heard say the same thing) suggest that too much fa-jing practice is bad for the health, and there is no need to routinely practise such tactics in solo forms as long as you do it in moderation while hitting a heavy bag or mitt that can absorb the impact. Even Erle Montaigue, who is extremely talented at what is sometimes called short power, has said that your forms eventually should only have a hint of power when playing them. Of course, this supposes that one has learned how to do fa-jing properly in the ﬁrst place. I tell my students to focus on precision and timing, to learn the basic skills solo with only a moderate amount of speed, and then practise them full-pace on a striking mitt or heavy bag. Only when there is some skill in both contexts should they advance to practising techniques with each other. This is particularly important when two people of different weights and heights are practising together. Again, as I say to them, when you learn a martial art that might work combatively, there has to be the risk while training, but most injuries are actually caused by one student not paying attention to what they are doing or going too fast. As in any aspect of efﬁcient training, learning fa-jing is as simple as having a competent instructor for a role model who can actually do the strike, as opposed to telling you how marvelously his or her teacher did it. Having found such a role model, you have to develop the necessary physical skills (i.e., a healthy, supple body, proper body mechanics and conditioning, elasticity of the tendons and muscles). All this takes time, patience, and more than a little effort on your long road to making your skills look effortless to the casual observer.
Iron Shirt and “Taking a Punch”
Many hard styles teach to exhale while striking, and it is often taught in the internal arts in the context of reverse breathing; but others teach the opposite: you ﬁll the form with inhalation as it opens and expands. Of course, with time and training, you don’t think consciously about breathing, and the end result seems to be that the torso learns to breath like an accordion, or old style furnace bellows as it opens and closes, folds and unfolds, and that it can do what is needed automatically when struck. As with many relevant advanced skills, it tends to be difﬁcult to do one thing without having some skill at those other things that provide a foundation for each other. In this way, unless you have mastered natural and reverse breathing, it is difﬁcult to do HEN/HA and fa-jing. If you haven’t started to understand the latter method of breathing, then training in getting hit is either a painful failure, or you learn to take a strike simply by tensing the abdominal muscles. Like so many other aspects of training, learning to be hit is a complex process which is difﬁcult to master unless your instructor is capable of doing and transmitting the feel of it. Beware of teachers who have you train on each other and refuse to take a blow themselves. They may understand the theory but are using you as the laboratory rats without being honest about it! To my mind, it is almost criminal to teach modern beginners with no martial experience that they can put all of their trust in “making a golden bell cover for the torso” out of Weiqi, or not having to learn how to defend themselves because they can learn to project Qi at an attacker. In some cases, the instructor actually begins to believe that they have some mystical ability because the techniques seem to work so well on their students or co-operative peers. On a traditional martial level, those sifu who told the young Chinese patriot boxers at the turn of the last century during the Boxer Rebellion that their paper charms and esoteric qigong practices would stop the bullets of the foreign soldiers were probably not trying to mislead their followers. Most of them could have sincerely believed in what they were saying or had experienced the ability of the mind to minimise injury and stop the pain and bleeding from minor wounds. Faith in this case was the cause of death and injury. However, with a little effort you can learn to stop a strike to the front of the torso—even if you cannot stop bullets! As I wrote earlier, taking a punch is not simply a question of tensing up to make a wall out of your muscles in the torso. This can stop some of the pain and impact of a good punch, but it will disturb your balance and leave you open to a follow-up technique. Relaxing the torso completely also doesn’t work. In fact, that is the least productive route martially. Even when wearing a chest protector, a good punch (whether internal or external) hurts like hell and destroys your balance if you try to be totally soft when it hits. The answer lies in not too much, not too little muscle, learning to breath and relax properly, and more than a little faith. For beginners in this kind of training, receiving punches must become a conditioned response, in which the tissue being hit tenses momentarily on impact and then relaxes once
BEYOND THE MARTIAL BASICS
the power is removed. Learning to do this is difﬁcult, but not impossible, and not just a question of hypnotising yourself so that you ignore the pain. By the way, traditionalists might say “you can learn Iron Shirt that can protect the face and head”; but having seen so many martial artists learn to break blocks of cement and slabs of wood with their forehead I wonder if that is true. In simple terms, getting used to being hit in the face is a matter of practice and correct alignment of the neck and chin, as well as keeping your mouth closed properly. Competent Western boxers learn to do this the hard way as a by-product of their training. A fortunate few learn to do it internally by accident or because of some natural aptitude. These are the boxers whom you see in the ring who seem totally unaffected by the strongest blows to the body. Even a mediocre Western boxer who bruises and staggers as a result of body blows can absorb an amazing amount of physical punishment to the torso, and does so for a number of years. There are lots of ex-boxers around, and you rarely hear of them dying or becoming invalids because of internal injuries to the torso. It is the blows to the head that are problematic and usually cause long-term disabilities and early deaths. The magniﬁcent ex-boxer Mohammed Ali is a sad example of such brain damage in his later years. Despite this, the easiest way to learn effective Iron Shirt in modern terms is to take up Western boxing on an amateur level, as the headgear will minimise the chances of long-term brain damage. Any good boxer learns to take pain and impact without getting internal injuries. It is also true that Western boxing, whether at an amateur or a professional level, is only suitable for those who are relatively young and ﬁt. A traditionalist would argue that it is also important to circulate and pack the Qi into the area being struck. Learning to do the latter involves learning and practising Iron Shirt Qigong, many styles of which have existed over the centuries. A few are still practised in some hard and soft styles. It is also only fair to say that many modern teachers have said that learning to take a punch will come naturally with proper form and qigong training. This may be true for those with much aptitude, but I doubt that the average student has much hope of learning to take a punch of any kind to the torso without training speciﬁcally to learn such skills. On the other hand, I no longer think that it is essential to do speciﬁc Iron Shirt Qigong methods to safely do the following methods; but I don’t regret the time I spent practising the traditional qigong sets that I did learn years ago. However you approach being a “human heavy bag,” as I said before, understanding how to do reverse abdominal breathing is essential. Similarly, doing regular standing qigong is essential both for good health and having a normal amount of Weiqi, which is the protective aspect of internal energy. Pragmatically, it is impossible to know if the Weiqi really does ﬂow to the surface of the skin when you are struck, but if you can visualise this happening—it helps! I have also had some success in teaching the concept by using a more modern analogy: imagine the push of the bare hand or the blow from a gloved ﬁst activates a force shield a la Star Trek that only lasts for the moment the attacking hand is in contact with you, and that
and there are many ways to cheat (e. I will describe only one method that is relatively safe to experiment with.” As in all aspects of internal training. What is in excess of its requirements is automatically “blown back” or “rebounded” to the attacker. who also has his or her hand on the Sender’s lower torso.g. faith in the method you learn. if you are doing so without personal instruction. If your right hand is on your partner. overbending the knees. that I have experienced involves getting used to the idea of being hit while maintaining your balance and relative relaxation. no sudden movements). Take turns being the “aggressor. and you have to put up with some pain and bruising in the beginning. knowing how to take a punch is relatively useless for self-defence if you cannot carry the ﬁght effectively to the opponent. and perseverance.. not use too much muscle. and not move their feet while pushing the Receiver into moving his or her feet. your shoulders and arms will soon get tired. one foot slightly in front of the other while facing each other. as well as real punches to the torso with both a boxing gloved hand and a bare hand punch.82
this energy shield absorbs the attacker’s force and uses it to charge your own shield generators. Their respective right or left shoulders should be facing each other. The Sender should have a balanced approach to how much force he or she uses: too much strength—and you will push the person over if you are bigger. traditional or otherwise. Use a timer to monitor short rounds and switch partner sides and partners frequently. the willingness and need to learn it. They should be close enough to each other so that their elbows remain comfortably bent even when the arms are extended. The Old Masters were correct in repeating endlessly that there is no substitute for personal instruction. A pair of students stand with their feet shoulder width apart. and springing up with those joints instead of using
.e. Last. especially if your partner resists skilfully. If you are smaller. The main rule is for the Sender to keep his or her balance. you need competent instruction. a good training partner you can trust.” The idea is for both people to move their arms and legs as little as possible while receiving the push and try to help the other person fall over if their push is stiffer than your returning. This method is the result of my own research and experimentation although it is based on methods used by a variety of internal experts that I have met or studied with over the years. One person (the “Sender”) puts his open palm on the other person’s lower torso and pushes slowly and ﬁrmly into the other person (the “Receiver”). I suppose that you can think of such imagery as being a modern interpretation of the old saying “Yi leads the Qi which leads the Li.. leaning into your partner. including some that involve receiving and returning a medicine ball. in a natural stance. Remember to push smoothly and not to strike in any way (i.. and to practise on both sides. As to the technique—best learned from someone who can do it—every competent method. then your right foot should be slightly forward.e. Oh. Oh. While I teach a variety of exercises. Don’t use a reverse stance. but not least. as it is easier to push by using the legs in either a crude or subtle manner. This basic method uses the open hand and relatively slow and gentle pushing only. i. this is well beyond learning from a written description.
Eventually. or mate with it?” Martial sports-oriented arts can give you a ﬁghting edge against someone who is interested in humiliating and dominating you. Speaking of dogs. or who has a great deal of control. and when the ﬁght is over. your 45 pound dog suddenly seems twice his size and will take on a much larger opponent without hesitation. dealing with a straight ahead energy is harder. Rover almost instantly goes back to being a pet—it doesn’t remain in killer mode.
. This is the home of the primitive reﬂexes that served us so well for millions of years when our ancestors were simpler beings with only a few concerns to worry about—to put it simply. or you need to move onto the advanced versions of this exercise. Erle Montaigue calls the most primitive part of the brain stem “the reptile mind. height. you need a different partner.BEYOND THE MARTIAL BASICS
the waist and spine when returning the push. You have to listen with your palm both when receiving a push and while trying to return it with the gentle inﬂation of the abdomen. fear it. “Do I eat it. When this happens. I am sure. Perhaps. ﬁght it.” to differentiate it from the more complex parts of the brain that grew out of it. the so-called reptile mind can make your training more liable to succeed in a life and death situation. At ﬁrst. and then using your arm to return the push with it) while doing this exercise. Erle Montaigue said it well when he compared using reptile brain in martial training to being like the family pet. but is not as useful against someone with a great deal of practical ﬁghting experience and the real desire to harm you. he is lovable and won’t hurt the kids or bite the postman. If both partners have roughly the same level of skill and are roughly the same size. some are beaten and abused until they become mean. and deﬂecting or returning an upward push is the hardest of all. weight. but most who have any aptitude for the combative arts can learn to apply this mind set (it is not the same thing as just using rage as an emotional fuel for your tactics) and. practise only with a partner who is roughly your height and weight. Oh yes. but if a member of the family is attacked. Assuming that you also have effective martial skill. Some students ﬁnd it difﬁcult to do. this is another topic that really cannot be separated from the others in the sense that accessing this mind state is one of the “engines” that make self-defence workable from a combative point of view. so it is important to be perceptive when practising. the twisting of the spine and a minimum of physical movement or effort. Reptile Brain and Animal Play Again. Such training is much harder to control than to access in some ways. most of you have trained with students who were always needlessly “reptilian” when sparring or training martial techniques. and some can turn it on and off as necessary. Dealing with a downward push is the easiest for anyone with rooting and relaxing skills. You trust Rover. it is similar to the infamous junk yard dog—some animals are born mean. as in most ﬁghts between young men. and arm reach become less of a deciding factor. Oh. resisting the push. and it is rarely necessary in modern life. the exercise can easily turn into a stalemate when neither would seem to be doing much to a casual observer.
from the natural world. Viking berserkers and werewolves). or alone in your personal relationships. In fact. If a zebra gets sick. or to those aboriginal or European cultures which revered nature and sought to transcend the boundaries between the spiritual and earthly dimensions. the abstractionists try to copy the spirit of the movement of a particular animal. or the animal chooses you. a monkey stylist will make facial expressions. There are normally eight animals in the majority of bagua styles. and your training shouldn’t turn you into the equivalent. the herd moves on leaving the ailing animal to the waiting lions —not from cruelty or self-interest but simply from obeying their own natures. By contrast. (The Ainu in Japan still revere the bear as an ancestor. not to mention many of the Chinese hard styles. he is capable of sudden bursts of speed. He is heavy and strong. both real and mythical. for good and bad. ten. both in history and mythology (i. Most humans wouldn’t. I favour the bear (or does the bear favour me?) and have related most easily to the movements of that animal. the Chinese shamans wore bear masks or heads and imitated the stepping of the bear on its hind feet in ritual dances. or you may ﬁnd yourself constantly in trouble with the law.. This animal has several sides to his nature in the Chinese martial arts. in parts of old China. as I have experienced over the years in hsing-i and liu he ba fa as well. In other internal and external systems there can be ﬁve. The bear is a symbol of strength. I think becoming a bear or a wolf in certain circumstances is not outside the realm of possibility—it shows up too frequently. I will describe him in some detail. Without getting too carried away by the links between Taoism and shamanism. Leaving aside the issue of reptile mind.84
Nobody normal wants to live with a guard dog that is always ready to bite. In ancient time. as it will give you an idea of how the animals. then the use of totem animals is not an alien concept to it. power. imitating how that animal moves and ﬁghts.
. and healing wisdom. without trying to become the animal or imitate all of its mannerisms. He is also playful and renowned for his bravery. are portrayed. hooting sounds and ﬂeascratching movements while doing the forms and applications. one of the central concepts of the traditional Chinese martial disciplines is learning by observing and imitating animals. The internal approach can run the gamut of these two extremes. However. As far as I am concerned.) I have to admit. Being well balanced and stable in his postures while slow and lumbering. Again. the peasants believed that humans were descended from bears. For example. humans have something that animals do not have—compassion. and the practice of his methods stimulates and warms the kidneys and body in winter. the self-defence aspect of animal play means that either you choose the animal that suits your physique and concentrate on it for the training you mean to use in life and death situations. or twelve animals. and that is one of the important issues that separates us. for all of our ﬂaws. The literalists try to imitate an animal as closely as possible. we see the same idea expressed in the concept of using animals as models for your martial movement in most styles of hsing-i and bagua. and is traditionally used in some regions of China as a charm against thieves and burglars.e. I would rather be the descendant of a grizzly than an ape! If it is true that Taoism is a shamanic religion. This takes two basic approaches.
I do like the spirit of that old hunter’s adage: “When hunting bears. It is also important to remember that no kind of mental conditioning can guarantee that you will prevail against all opponents—even if you are well-conditioned and well-trained. You have to be able to become (not imitate) an animal for life and death struggles. some days you get the bear. a variety of hand postures. becoming like an animal is really only suitable in life and death situations. that the internal arts are environmentally
. because he has mated natural movement and effective subconscious ﬁghting skills to the reptile/berserker mind. or accessing some primeval survival mechanism. and killing and eating my own cubs if I get the chance! I tell my senior students that reptile mind. His words are certainly relevant to the subject of animal energies and self-defence. for good and bad. is up for discussion. Friedrich Nietzsche (c. as well as different ways of holding the spine and the body. internal force is also an application of Qi and of intention to maximise the effectiveness of your methods while minimising your physical efforts. Erle Montaigue has said. not for dealing with annoying bullies or with your training partners. I only want to acknowledge the possibility of becoming a bear if I have to ﬁght a gang of bikers—rather than being one permanently.”
Before discussing self-defence skills. and more than a little scary. as opposed to localised strength or crude tricks of leverage. if you gaze for long into an abyss.… I think there is a lot to be said for understanding your favourite animal(s) in whatever art you train in.BEYOND THE MARTIAL BASICS
In any case. living alone except for mating season.1844 –1900). only partly tongue-in-cheek. Compassion and the ability to choose how we act are what really separates us. The latter might give you added ferocity or make your opponent think that you are crazy. it is important to have a working deﬁnition of internal martial force. Erle’s stuff is so effective. On a mundane level. the ability to quickly and efﬁciently put mass into motion and focus its impact to your best advantage. and use leverage effectively. Even though I am not a fan of hunting for sport. can bring about the requisite physiological response—but as to whether or not this is an example of auto-suggestion. as long as you don’t confuse understanding the spirit and the movement with becoming that animal for training or ﬁghting purposes. the abyss gazes also into you. eagle vision. or also uses this kind of mental state. from the Garden of Eden. but you wouldn’t want to be an animal for daily life. As to how we trigger these attributes. martial force is an expression of the laws of physics: strength exerted on an object or person. “He who ﬁghts with monsters might take care lest he thereby become a monster. On a more esoteric level. some day the bear will get you!” I’d like to ﬁnish with a cautionary note sounded long ago and in another context by the philosopher. but wouldn’t be much help against a skilful opponent who was able to remain calm. And. This also implies that the practitioner will be able to use whole body strength. and “C” back are the ﬂip side of the peace that comes through qigong.
not in a particularly good condition. In this way not using force is interpreted as a total absence of force of any kind. and humans in general. It is often laughed at by martial artists who conﬁne their practice to the co-operative atmosphere of the martial classroom. However.” without focus. you may ﬁnd it useful to divide the various basic expressions of martial force into ﬁve categories: No Force.86
“green” because the idea is not to expend your own energy but to recycle it as you counter an opponent’s tactics. Of course. it won’t do anything for your character or your health. Brute Force. As internal arts practitioners. Instructors of such approaches are usually the ones who advocate to “do your form and it will bring self-defence skills automatically. The movements of such a person seem “mushy. natural body mechanics are found in many people who don’t do the internal arts—any talented athlete in any sport have discovered or been trained to use the most efﬁcient movement and posture to do the sport in which they excel. Internal Force. and either don’t practise any martial exercises. are fond of categorising and ﬁnd an almost magical signiﬁcance in certain numbers. In the relative safety of a training environment. Skilful Force. or limit their practice to overly rubbery and co-operative sensitivity training. many socalled primitive people also express internal body mechanics in they way they stand and move—the Masai of Africa and the natives of the Amazon forest express efﬁcient posture and movement in a way that seems alien to out-of-shape Westerners.” They are also often overweight. You don’t have to be very ﬁt to learn how to ﬁght—but being ﬁt cannot hurt your efforts in that direction. and barely succeed in keeping him or her upright. No Force The average practitioner of No Force has chosen to deﬁne bagua training as a complete lack of muscular force and effort. By the way. Upright and Integrated Force. Doing this means that you use rebound energy to power your continuing strikes rather than reloading after every strike as in a hard style counter—like an automatic ﬁrearm rather than a revolver. much less martially capable. it is easy for both teacher and students alike to come to believe that a lack of force is somehow magical. I am getting ahead of myself in discussing such issues. Brute Force Brute Force depends on strength and some understanding of crude techniques or just experience at brawling. Being “green” also has the implication that you are putting in and withdrawing your own energy every time you make contact—and not expending your energy in a draining fashion.
.” or teach their students to “project Qi out of their palms at attackers. as opposed to being a speciﬁc kind of applied energy based on efﬁcient body mechanics. Similarly. but their contempt is unwarranted. and actually seem to feel that this is somehow an indication they have “got it” martially. as brawling regularly is one of the best ways to learn how to ﬁght if that is all that interests you. Those who advocate this No Force training usually emphasise circular form or standing qigong as being the epitome of their art.
Skilful Force Skilful Force is an evolutionary step up from Brute Force and combines factors of body mass. As well as being upright. or unskilled aggressors. and is of less use against someone who uses the following three categories of martial force. The training emphasis is usually on techniques and tactics. Most of the instructors I have met who teach the martial aspects of their respective internal arts never progress beyond this stage. you’d better have a back-up plan (or a heavy stick) ready—or reevaluate how you train if you survive. Such practitioners are often able to retain their skills into middle age although they usually must moderate or curtail their participation in sparring or competition in favour of teaching or form practice. human nature being what it is.” and its practitioners have taken their understanding of Skilful Force one step farther. in all fairness. those using this category of force are also less likely to be willing to give up their status as established experts to take their training a step
. as opposed to intuitive application of principles. or qigong as a commercial sideline to their hard kung-fu or Japanese Style. balanced posture enables them to use centrifugal force in a very effective manner. Depending on the training. They have learned or realised that an upright. strength. In addition. Upright and Integrated Force This type of force is what I like to call “semi-internal. many external stylists develop admirable levels of Skilful Force and are strong and capable exponents of their respective arts. speed.. martial experience. the practitioner of this kind of force has learned to mesh the turning of the body and the shifting of weight so that most of his or her mass is behind each technique. In what I like to call “the pseudo-internal arts. However. the ability to use it effectively fades with age. many a ﬁt modern sport martial artist has had the .BEYOND THE MARTIAL BASICS
Although Brute Force works very effectively against smaller or unskilled opponents and is often used by very large people or bullies. no matter what their size and relative strength. and superior technical skill. and ﬂexibility of the arms and legs tend to be the key components to developing this ability. In addition. particularly against straight line attacks. it is also very difﬁcult to ﬁnd better role models. . Their body mechanics tend to be much less stiff than the earlier categories. smoother and more rounded. knocked out of them . and co-ordination with emotional maturity. At this level. by an older pot-bellied brawler who wasn’t impressed by the talk of black belts and was used to getting hit because ﬁghting was his idea of a recreational activity! If your opponent shrugs off the impact of your best technique as he rushes in and gets his hands around your neck.” it is usually used by those instructors who teach bagua. strength. Skilful Force is effective in defence against those using similar tactics. as it becomes very effective against the techniques of those using the other forces previously described. However. taiji.
Done properly. Many instructors say or imply that their practice has this quality. However.” the ingredients to a successful climb are patience. outside of my limited experience. but fewer have actually advanced that far. • He feels rubbery or springy when you touch him. please don’t assume that competence in these will somehow automatically bring self-defence skills or the ability to generate Internal Force.88
further. Many start up the ladder.
. Beware of 35 year-old Grand Masters. but get stuck on a particular rung. such core exercises teach relaxation under pressure. The master practitioner who has developed such skill is able to blend his or her movements with an attacker’s strikes and movements so well as to almost seem to disappear momentarily. and practises at least one of the healing aspects of the internal arts—acupressure. much less acquire. and there is nothing wrong with conﬁning your study of the martial side of the art to the basic martial exercises. can change from one state to another with a spontaneity that is both breathtaking and frightening. he seems boneless like a snake or a cat. perseverance and the ability to admit that you don’t know it all and never will. As I said before. each of the previous categories have some martial value. • He is usually equally expressive in both solo form and combat skills. nor is he seriously overweight. he or she can counter-attack with such speed and precision that it is almost impossible for a bystander to perceive. of the many internal experts that I have met in the last decade. Such a person spontaneously uses body mechanics so well that it seems effortless in comparison to the frenzied speed and muscle of the attacker. qigong. Internal Force Internal Force is a difﬁcult force to describe. only a few are outstanding role models of what it means to internalise one’s martial practice. but unfortunately the real experts of this calibre are rare. • He is shaped rather like a tree trunk in the sense of not being top-heavy in muscle development. as they are sometimes described on web sites and in American martial arts magazines. They often form a natural progression of development for the maturing internal arts practitioner. as well as timing. • He seems to stand as still as a mountain. Such practitioners are few and far between in real life. • He is at least middle-aged and has a great deal of martial and life experience. etc. Aside from having competent instruction at key points along this “ladder of life. explodes without warning. who is developing real internal quality to their force. by bending the knee and publicly admitting that someone can actually be farther along the way than they are. With the exception of No Force. Neither is he built like a weightlifter. herbal therapy. and is rare even in the Orient. there is more to bagua and to life than learning how to ﬁght. For example. In addition. There are key variables to look for when identifying an instructor or practitioner. I am sure that there are others out there. When moving. no matter how skilful you become. massage.
regardless of their skill level. against vigorous or spontaneous attacks by students who are not being overly cooperative in how they attack. and one not usually encountered in a classroom setting. In addition. As part of what the Chinese rather delightfully call “wild history. If you are not used to such events. very few instructors attempt to apply the principles of their art to semi-realistic ﬁghting situations by having their students train. In a ﬁght success comes to those who blend offensive and defensive tactics. stiffness combined with rage or skill is a different proposition. both psychologically and in terms of being hit. while over the following days the rufﬁans are all incapacitated by injuries caused by the beating they thought they were giving their victim. The ﬁrst one or two effective techniques usually decide who is the victim and who is the victor. and moral superiority is small consolation for a beating that leaves you or a loved one emotionally or physically maimed. or who are not trying to hurt you or make you look bad. unlike the movies. when you only ever practise in the safety of your school with people who don’t have much relevant martial experience. However.” most students have read or been told stories about the old master who passively allows himself to be beaten by a gang of laughing rufﬁans. most of us are not capable of such marvellous demonstrations of passive resistance. real violence tends to start and be over almost before you can analyse what is happening. only to have it rebound painfully into my limbs or push me over. which implies staying physically balanced and using effective tactics immediately. and. It is easy to get carried away with a feeling of spiritual or tactical superiority when doing an internal martial art like bagua. he gets up as if nothing had happened. Stiffness combined with lack of commitment is relatively easy to deal with if you can relax even marginally more than your opponent. I will admit that there may well be something in such old tales. relaxation means not panicing if struck or suddenly forced to ﬁght. Having had the experience of striking a modern-day expert or two with stiff force when I was a relative beginner. you have to practise accordingly. Kicks are rarely used unless as an element of surprise or to ﬁnish someone who has been knocked down. at least some of the time. the ﬁrst contact may injure or shock you enough to leave you open to subsequent blows. with the most.BEYOND THE MARTIAL BASICS
However. the good guys don’t always win in real life. When they leave. a strong committed attack of any kind will likely easily penetrate the skills of an average practitioner if he or she is overly defensive and yields passively to someone who doesn’t obey the rules. Sadly.”
. Remember the advice of a Confederate General from the American Civil War days when asked what his strategy was in battle: “Git thar ﬁrst. knows how he or she will react until they are faced with real danger the ﬁrst time as opposed to sparring with an opponent in a friendly competition or with a fellow student in the safety of training environment. no one. However. being able to work in close contact with the attacker without being immediately grappled or thrown. In combat. and don’t just hope to stumble upon a suitable tactic by being totally on the defensive. If you want to maximise your self-defence potential. where ﬁghts go on for what seems like hours. Similarly.
Speaking of useful old expressions hinting that the internal arts were not originally a New Age practice. were experienced martial artists who already understood the mechanics of timing and distance and were used to the thump-andbump of physical contact on a variety of levels when they ﬁrst were exposed to bagua. For example. This can also provide an opportunity to lock up one or more joints. when the art was still primarily about ﬁghting. Most schools will have you sparring and free ﬁghting ﬁrst. even when this is counterproductive. or trip. you use that contact to control or “rub” the limb so as to distract him (even momentarily). but it is an important issue that often gets glossed over. a modern teacher of the internal arts whom I greatly respect. get an angle on an opponent and unbalance or ‘uproot’ him if you have no power or technique to close the deal with after. Dominating the initial contact: When you touch the opponent with your arm or hand while deﬂecting and neutralising his attacking limb. Tim Cartmell. Nowadays. any such saying is best viewed as a starting point for long-term study by those who are serious in the training and have considerable experience.” and “You must eat bitter to be full. This always brings us back to the issue (I know. I keep harping on this. you must either feint an attack or extend a hand inviting the opponent to make contact with you. wrote in 2003 on his website’s discussion board: “The theory is. neutralising or yielding to force. as well as. as you simultaneously counter-attack.” Attempting to reduce the necessary factors to a manageable number.90
Going Beyond the Basics
In self-defence the biggest obstacle to making the jump from the basic martial skills is learning how to make contact with the incoming force from an attacker. it is a waste of time to learn to neutralise incoming force. two venerable ones in the Chinese martial arts are my favourites: “Not to hit is to cheat the student. For students such as these. Once this contact is made. Such drills are designed to make training relatively safe and are not necessarily a precursor to free ﬁghting. throw him. hopefully.…
. so it is less useful unless they are taught the martial basics either beforehand or concurrently with the sensitivity training. Which leads us to the third point. to upset his balance. in North America at least) that most bagua practitioners in China in the old days. most students of bagua have little or no relevant martial experience to bring to their sensitivity training. most competent bagua styles have training methods developed to teach the skills of connecting. strike with the other hand. you can use the bridge you have created to attack. This tactic can be particularly useful against those who have mistaken the forest for the trees in that their martial training has conditioned them to stick at all cost. They are of much less value for beginners and even intermediate level practitioners. and were not designed to teach the fundamentals of ﬁghting. you could say that there are ﬁve essential self-defence skills.” Of course. sensitivity drills were designed to teach just that. Stealing the timing: When the opponent doesn’t want to take the initiative. and the push hands drills are taught later to bring the sensitivity of ﬁghting skills up to higher levels. of course.
Working the open vs closed sides of the opponent: One of the toughest problems in ﬁghting someone with skill is that they will try to limit your options in the same way you will try to limit theirs. as well as yours. You have an opportunity to attack his vulnerable areas. Long-term training (assuming competent instruction) polishes the experienced practitioner. as you have to attack his. so to speak. and having superior positional advantage may be the only way we can win the encounter. you have superior positional advantage to take the opponent down without much struggle. Sticking until it is not necessary: If your opponent tries to break the bridge you have created. if you spend enough time studying internal arts and have the opportunities to study with a variety of experts. efﬁciency and authority a beginner can only marvel at. When ﬁghting on the inside (and sometimes you have no choice) your opponent has just as much access and opportunity to attack your vulnerable areas. Conversely. stronger. until it is no longer necessary to do so. Short-term skills can be rough. “The methods should give you basic self-defence skills in a few months or years. If you are behind or outside your opponent’s arms. you defend with your left and move to his outer side). so that he or she moves with the ease. it will soon become obvious that most of those teaching are not teaching self-defence skills that would have any hope of working outside of the relative safety of their classes. but the problem is that this works both ways. it will often be very difﬁcult to do so in a face-to-face exchange. lighter person to do as a defensive action. This doesn’t mean the beginner can not learn to apply the same methods for combat
. This makes it more difﬁcult to avoid being attacked by his left hand but also implies that you have better targets available to your counterattack. By contrast. However.. you must follow his actions to maintain contact with one hand and/or a part of your body while you continue to attack. as the aggressor’s torso is protected by his arm. In addition. as well as the option to escape if need be. In other words. to distract him from pressing his advantage or from reestablishing effective martial contact. In order to end a real ﬁght you need to dominate your opponent. his torso is relatively open. he has no access to yours. and so have many of my students. working the “open side” implies that you defend against the aggressor’s right hand with your left and stay in front of him. but limits somewhat your targets for counter-attack. Maximising Your Self-defence Skills It makes sense to assume that the opponent is dangerous (stronger and technically sound). you must break that contact by withdrawing the limb while counter-attacking. if necessary: If the opponent has skill and successfully adheres to your limb. involve the risk of bruises (to the ego and elsewhere!) and a substantial amount of sweat—the beginning of the forging process.e. but reﬁning those skills will take a lifetime of ongoing effort.” Over the decades. my main teachers both told me the same thing over the years. if he attacks with his right hand. If he or she is bigger. One important aspect of this is that the safest way to defend against their arms is to work the “closed side” (i.BEYOND THE MARTIAL BASICS
Breaking contact. There are plenty of vulnerable areas to attack when inside. This is often easier for the smaller. the opposite does not hold true. or skilled at ﬁghting. I have found this to be true.
especially if you don’t train in them every day for three to ﬁve years. This is the hardest to cultivate in an internal manner (good teachers are few and far between). Such training is not suitable for everyone. especially those with serious health problems. but would actually be counterproductive if you ever had to protect yourself or your loved ones from a serious attack. One instructor even assured me with a hint of a sneer that it was wrong to make any kind of contact with your partner while doing applications. sensitivity and efﬁcient body mechanics (i. However. brings better health and even emotional/spiritual beneﬁts. as you would not be training your Qi properly! Sadly. I am reminded of the delightful story of the hsing-i master in China. It is a far different thing to learn how to hit without hurting your limbs. who was supposedly lecturing his students on how important it was to study with a good heart. The lack of experience with any kind of body contact is the main reason why most modern martial artists would have a rough time trying to apply their skills against a real street ﬁghter. whole body usage). or unused to regular physical activity. as opposed to simply punching the air. One student. as opposed to playing. his attitude is not
. • Willingness to invest in loss and learn from your mistakes. This is one of the pleasures of bagua as a martial system which. or against someone really intent on hitting them. as internal style martial skills are not learned quickly. What Do You Need to Bring to Such Training? • Some physical strength and health are essential to safely train in any martial method that might work in a worst case scenario. Most of us are fortunate enough (or mature enough) to never need to develop such skills. rather than practise many things in an indifferent manner. • Experience at hitting actual targets with some power.e. and that the training was ultimately to teach the students how to avoid ﬁghting. reportedly.92
purposes. as well as how to absorb or transmit the impact without bouncing off what you hit! • Some experience with close-quarters physical contact with your training partners. impatiently asked. why practise ﬁghting at all?” The master’s answer was.. it is essential to learn and practise a few methods that suit your body type and physical attributes so that they become reﬂexive. It is easy to be smug with the speed of your strikes while doing a fast form or practising solo. “If you don’t want to learn properly. but even the crudest skill at taking a blow or being thrown will soon teach you many valuable lessons about what relaxation and balance are really all about in relation to self-defence. • For self-defence. it is also a shame to learn skills you think might be useful. rather than get mad at yourself or your training partner. What Should You Look for in Your Training? • An understanding of balance and body mechanics that rely less on muscle mass and strength and more on leverage. • Patience is a useful attribute. “If we are supposed to learn to avoid violence. get out!” Most modern students don’t want to learn so much as they want to feel they have all the answers. as a by-product to self-defence skill. timing.
I have met many supposed experts over the years who are teach methods that have no hope of working in the real world. 1987) that the key to defending against a knife was to remember your mother’s good advice when she caught you playing with the kitchen cutlery: “Don’t play with that. and a lot of sweat along the way! In the long run. What Should You Avoid in Your Training? • An emphasis on sticking and yielding. an internal art that has some claim to being a true combative art will never be as effortless as it looks to the casual observer.95. or that of someone who really knows something about defending against such cutlery. the hardest aspect of defending against a knife is realising that you probably will get cut in some way. • Any teacher who claims that you can learn to project Qi as your main technique for self-defence skills. that was me) once wrote in an article for a British police magazine (Police Review. they are often taught counterproductively in self-defence sense. this also explains why most modern experts with any real self-defence skills usually have a background in wrestling or throwing arts or have boxed (whether Western or Thai). However. even though they may seem to work in a classroom setting. even though common sense should tell you that you have to have control in your martial contact. • Complex methods that rely on the compliance of an overly stiff partner to have any success of application. It is also important to remember that you have to learn how to handle these weapons offensively with some ability to learn how to defend against them. You can’t learn to defend properly if you have no idea of how to defend. They are used to close-quarter combat and to having to react properly while under real pressure. November 13. Incidentally. Common sense seems to go out the window if you judge by the number of schools whose teachers make their students fall over. Defending Against Knives and Clubs A famous man (no.BEYOND THE MARTIAL BASICS
unique. a competent internal art relies less and less on crude strength and technique. as to make these essential skills easier to understand and practise safely in a large group. this holds true of unarmed techniques as well. whoops. and it is possible to continue to train with beneﬁt when one is past his or her physical prime. you’ll get cut!” In fact. but you also have to have contact! Conversely. a few bruises. and you may have to give up a piece of yourself to get the knife wielder. I don’t often go into the speciﬁcs of defending against such weapons with my students because it is relatively useless to learn knife or club defences until you already have considerable physical skill in all the basics and have absorbed Erle Montaigue’s excellent advice. Vol. • Anyone who tells you that you can learn an effective martial art without any initial physical effort. You could call it another aspect of Yin and Yang being balanced!
. and vice versa. twitch and throw themselves by a ﬂick of master’s ﬁngers.
you may be able roll with the impact of a blunt weapon if it is hitting a muscular portion of your body in order to counter-attack. As with any aspect of self-defence. and many are prepared to fold at the elbow. bump (strike the arm holding the knife in the joints. and having also gotten married and stopped spending my free time in bars. but a cut to an artery can cause you to go into shock or bleed to death in a very short period of time. hopefully. Being clubbed is similar to being attacked with a knife. and it takes little practice to be able to attack successfully with a knife—especially compared to how long it takes to learn how to defend against such attacks. Quite often the sudden appearance of a weapon will prove distracting to the point where the attacker can kick or strike you with his free limbs and then use his weapon at his leisure. In addition. you need to have excellent martial skills and practise against the common ways of swinging and wielding a knife or club to have any hope of being able to do so on the street. Final Words on Self-defence Since beginning to teach in 1985. an experienced knife ﬁghter will expect you to block or grab the hand holding the weapon. I am happy to say that I have not had to ﬁght anyone. I have witnessed a number of street ﬁghts. as very little body force is necessary to inﬂict deep cuts with a sharp knife. The point of a knife is often so small and sharp that only a relatively light amount of force is required for deep penetration that can lead to severe infection and death. I had some relevant experiences in my younger days. but the attacker’s knife hand will often move in very small circles and erratically. or where the nerve endings come close to the surface. most techniques in unarmed martial arts require great skill to have any success of working. Similarly. and this kind of real
. although it is marginally easier to defend against someone using a blunt impact weapon if you have any skill at all. More important. Without losing sight of the fact that any edged weapon can cause cuts to arteries that could kill you in minutes by causing shock or blood loss. it is essential to remember in all aspects of such training that the person holding the weapon—not the weapon itself—is your real concern. as even a small cut to an artery can cause death in minutes from bleeding or shock.94
To summarise Erle’s approach to knife defence (and I do recommend his videos on the topic): evade (get out of the way). away from you—to cause pain and. but a cut throat to cripple your attacker is a very poor trade indeed! In addition. etc. The latter may seem harsh. In unarmed self-defence you might be able to accept a blow from the ﬁst to the gut in order to strike a more vital area. throat). pull or twist the blade back to sever your ﬁngers as you try to hold their attacking arm. However. and attack vital points (eyes. A broken arm can be survived if it means you take out the attacker. knock the weapon loose from the attacker’s grip). and in more recent years have manoeuvred my way out of a couple of situations that could easily have become ugly if I had panicked or overreacted. but it is still risky business. but this cannot work with a knife.
you cannot always avoid violence by minding your own business. Having this kind of training environment is difﬁcult. and against any opponent. What you think is effective may in fact be ineffective because of the way in which the enemy is “feeling” at that particular moment. 1995) is a martial primer that is worth owning and rereading. I would like to quote the words of Miyamoto Musashi. There is a lot of truth to the statement: “A teacher who doesn’t have experience in real world violence is next to worthless.”
. being able to neutralise and yield as you counter-attack. There are too many variations in attacks from the enemy. In other words. a grabber. His Book of Five Rings (from The Martial Artist’s Book of Five Rings. Even in practice sessions you must have the attitude of going in for the kill. I will state that it is not possible to learn self-defence or combative skills that might work against a skilled or determined attacker without controlled contact and some form of spontaneous unrehearsed attacks. and a willingness by both the attacker and the defender to escalate the “violence” only as much as each participant can manage at a given time in their development. Charles E. or any combination thereof. a thrower.BEYOND THE MARTIAL BASICS
violence tends to spring out of nowhere. even though this kind of training is not done cooperatively! Finally. You must be ﬂexible and have no particular liking for any particular set of techniques. However. …If you do not develop this attitude.” Especially if that teacher claims to be teaching ﬁghting or self-defence methods that are guaranteed to work under all conditions. Unfortunately. you can also argue that not having been in a serious ﬁght since I started to achieve some skill shows that I have achieved some maturity and the ability to manoeuvre potentially bad situations into ones that were resolved without violence. as it requires one-on-one coaching or very small groups. Your attitude must be such that you can shift into any other mode of combat without having to make a conscious decision. as translated by Stephen F. the famous mediaeval Japanese swordsman. albeit in a controlled manner. with or without body armour. and having some idea of how to deal with a variety of styles of attack: a puncher. as much of his advice is still relevant to the study of any effective combative art: “You cannot take a certain attitude and depend on it entirely. there has to be a spirit of cooperation. what are you doing there in the ﬁrst place? Combat ﬁghting is not done for fun. who learned the hard way by surviving dozens of ﬁghts in which his opponents were often killed. Isn’t one of the worthiest goals of martial arts training to transcend the need to come to blows? Getting the most out of bagua as a martial system relies on many training methods to develop good basic combative skills—knowing how to close the distance between you and the other. At the risk of being repetitive and pedantic. Tuttle Publishers. Kaufman.
much less what they are passing on to beginners. than that of those who have learned and taught the modern wu-shu bagua forms invented by the Sports Committees of the various Chinese government-sponsored athletic colleges. there are the countless kung-fu and karate “masters” who have learned a little bagua and are happy to teach it as a sideline. In this chapter I would like to touch on some of the contentious topics that are frequently raised when experienced practitioners get together to argue in a friendly.
THOUGHTS ON LINEAGE
As I said before. Tung Hai Ch’uan. manner. of each. and offer bagua weapons forms using the sai and shinai to prove it! I have visited sites which promise you can learn the essence of the
. the history of modern bagua really begins with only one teacher. both good and bad. more experienced students may be surprised to learn that there is as much difference of opinion about almost any bagua-related issue as there are people talking about that subject! One way to experience this is to visit any of internal arts internet discussion boards. although the level of sophistication in the discussions is usually on par with that generated in a redneck bar on Saturday night. In the same way. or not so friendly. or a schoolyard between adolescents. I have seen websites and advertising where earnest young men in aikido or karate outﬁts promise to teach you bagua as it was originally created. I would imagine that the staff of these modern facilities also feel that what they teach is equal or superior to what is being taught by the traditionalists. without worrying too much about the depth of their own understanding. and the few experienced martial artists who studied with him when he went public in Beijing at the turn of the 20th century.Chapter Six
Many beginners come to a bagua class thinking that there is only one form of that discipline instead of two main approaches—Wu-tang and Er-mei—as well as countless variations. of course. Then. if not better. The inheritors of the styles developed by those students state or imply that their version is at least as good.
. He usually had only a few.g. Sadly. Nebraska.… A cynic might think that the art has changed a great deal since its origins in the mid-19th century. Similarly. I have been creative in small ways in my own teaching. In the same way. a master may come from a traditional school. Otherwise. and attribute their curriculum to mysterious Chinese gentlemen who happened to live next door in Vanier. family member. There are always otherwise reputable teachers in China who are not in the least bit shy in handing out certiﬁcates to any foreigner who comes with enough money and an introduction from someone they know overseas.g. and they were recommended by a close friend. or modern one. He then became an “inner door disciple” and was shown most of the training secrets. it becomes a museum piece with relevance only to academics and those obsessed with the past. He was shown all of the style’s secret training techniques. we understand the human physiology much better than before. I have not consciously changed the forms that I learned from Erle Montague. Leaving aside the tricky issue of deciphering lineage and deciding who has the real goods from a technical and historical perspective. The prospective student had to undergo the bashi ceremony of swearing allegiance to his master. In this regard. although. a long and prestigious lineage cannot guarantee that a particular teacher will automatically be as great as those who preceded him or her. You should never assume that a teacher is less competent on any level because you have never heard of them or their teachers. and I do think that it is important to leave a legacy for future generations that has some continuity with the past. in terms of how to train safely and get the most out of the human potential). In traditional schools the master was very selective of his students. modern bagua organisations are sometimes shams in the sense that they exist only on paper. as my skills have evolved in what I practise and teach. and vice versa. too much change can also cause problems. or both. and some for the worse (e. effective self-defense skills are replaced by highly gymnastic crowd-pleasing movements as a way of using the forms for competition). In fact. The best among the students was then selected to be the next lineage holder after the master passed away. a large part of the historical difference between traditional and modern bagua is the relationship between the student and the teacher..CONTROVERSIAL ISSUES
art in seven days and another web page in which a young instructor wrote that the name of our art came from the war cry “BAGUA” the founder used to shout in battle. just because an organisation is large and has a famous teacher as a ﬁgurehead will not guarantee competent instruction in any of the member schools. I wish I was making this all up. Ontario or in Twin Farts. To remain a viable art—and not just a museum piece—any style of bagua must evolve to remain relevant to modern students. and some of that change has been for the better (e. My only problem with creativity is when some teachers refuse to acknowledge that they have been creative. or other martial arts master. I don’t think that there is any way around the necessity for change in even the best system of forms and training methods. or the members have bought a certiﬁcate by sending in the required membership fee or visiting a famous master for a week or two in China.
I just wish that innovative teachers would have the courage to come out and say. however. many practitioners and instructors take the attitude that unless they remain bound by whatever they have learned from their instructor. Finding the original method is highly unlikely. Conversely. In the end. I would suspect that the history of bagua is full of myths and personal agendas. while the non-traditionalists can be too quick to throw out whatever doesn’t appeal to them and change forms and methods for all the wrong reasons. And failing to learn from your own experiments and insights is as ridiculous as assuming that everything you invent is gold! To return to the original topic. Having trained in variations of both styles of school. ﬁnding a good teacher with access to one of the better inheritances and variations of this discipline is both possible and crucial if you want to have some hope of developing even a pale reﬂection of the original art. it has no legitimacy. It was often not an exaggeration to think of them as being adopted members of an extended family. I can’t help but feel that one approach will appeal to those who crave authority and want to feel connected to something venerable. I invented this.… It is important to remember that modern experts are often bringing aspects of their other ﬁghting arts to whatever they teach. the teacher is willing to accept any student who walks in the door and is willing to pay the required monthly fee. individual abilities. All fellow students were treated like brothers.98
These disciples typically took care of all the master’s needs and treated him like a father. but the ethics. but it is one of the few ethics that are essential for day-to-day integrity. so what?” Honesty isn’t everything. martial lineage is important. Both approaches have their merit in empirical values. in a modern or non-traditional setting. It is easy to be too humble. both with yourself and with others. whose genius lay in his reputed ability to get experienced martial experts from diverse styles to incorporate their strengths—but not their weaknesses—into the bagua he taught each of them. but I tell my two sons that you cannot have that elusive manna without maintaining honesty in your everyday life. They look at me like I am an old relic (I guess I am in some ways) when I harp on the subject. “Being a man” has gone out of fashion.
. “Yes. while the other to those who are more independent and value initiative and innovation. Both approaches are also easy to overdo—the traditionalists become obsessed with historical accuracy over practicality. it can be difﬁcult to ﬁnd instructors who are better than you in ways that go beyond the stylistic differences meaningless at an internal level. this is certainly going with the experience and attitude of the founder of this discipline. so that the information is rarely purely from a bagua perspective. and it can sometimes be used as a weapon. By contrast. There is no implied student-teacher loyalty in either direction. In addition. and the training is softened to meet the student’s needs and to retain students. and teaching skills of the person you plan to learn bagua from are even more important than how skilful his teacher was and who in the past had taught him. And.
many students will assume that practising should make you a superhuman of some kind and guarantee you don’t get colds or suffer injuries. However. but had to stop because their knees were killing them after a few months. Perhaps. it bears repeating that it will not bring signiﬁcant self-defence skills unless you learn and practise that side of the art with a competent teacher for several years. there tends to be an expectation in both students and teachers that regular practice will somehow eliminate all physical ills and confer immunity to illness and general physical wear and tear. as they were living in a very different age and society. so to speak). Certainly. However. because of the New Age veneer on many of the North American variations of bagua. when Sun Lu Tang became the ﬁrst to write authoritatively about bagua and the other internal arts. and when it was often of most use to those already “in the know” (martial short hand. circle walking is often a killer on the knees if you don’t get the walking just right. The older generation of teachers were too secretive. Unfortunately. and it can heal just about anything if the practitioner has enough faith. I have seen no evidence in almost fourteen years of practice and teaching to contradict my impression that the health aspect of bagua is anything but a relatively modern overlay on the art. things went back to normal. In any case. this is not the case. knee damage or chronic inﬂammation has ended or limited the careers of many internal arts practitioners. students who practise the healing part regularly may ﬁnd that they learn the self-defence stuff more efﬁciently than those who approach the martial side of bagua without an inner peace of some kind and an understanding of the basic concepts of moving meditatively. Two of my best taiji students started studying bagua with me. and those who feel that it was developed as a martial art and should be trained with that in mind. Because of the mystical nonsense that has been added to baguazhang from a variety of external sources. it is quite possible that those who followed Master Tung added traditional Chinese self-healing exercises and Taoist meditative knowledge. it is also important to remember that we shouldn’t judge them from a modern “enlightened” perspective. In the long run. In particular. Once they stopped. and sometimes even if you do. On the other hand. And it sounds as if some of their personalities were rather harsh as well. even the word Qigong only came into popular usage in China in the early 1960s. if half of the stories are true. a good style of baguazhang will make you a better and healthier person. but on defeating them. I don’t think we will ever know for sure. The Slip Step seems to be the hardest to do safely.
. Realistically. and very little was put down in writing until the 1930s. Conversely. For example. to what they had learned from Tung Hai Ch’uan in an effort to make the art more complete. gained elsewhere. After all. the reputation of the early masters was not built on healing people. You cannot learn ﬁghting by osmosis. I have other beginners drop out after a few weeks because they found that bagua in general was too hard on their backs and shoulders as well. there seem to be two major camps—those who believe that bagua is really a Taoist form of moving meditation.CONTROVERSIAL ISSUES
IS BAGUA A HEALING ART OR A MARTIAL ART?
As with the previous discussion.
rather categorically. but the waist must move to initiate the hand work—in other words. some good teachers say. and I think to myself. doesn’t that limit you in many ways?
. it should be simultaneous. There is also a certain amount of wear and tear to be expected from training. and I have also read that in the oldest version of the Chen Style. including having tried to do high kicks for years and the stamping in some of the forms I have practised. If you can only do one. and not neglect getting warmed up and stretched (the two activities are not the same) before doing the more demanding forms. there are no easy answers. which would seem to contradict that the waist and weight changes must lead the hands.e. There are many days when everything aches in my middle-aged carcass. and this is most evident in expressions of horizontal power (i. As in many things. and I now understand why instructors traditionally preferred to not train with the beginner and intermediate students. “Why am I doing this?” I have arthritis in both elbows from being a training partner for too many students who didn’t have the control that prevents needless damage. while our approach says that the hands lead. that the hands must pull the body into position. so all we can hope is to avoid major injury.e. and less useful if you are using vertical power (i. twisting from side to side). There are frequent references to the desirability of this in other internal arts I have seen or practised. The overall truth is probably that being relaxed and relatively calm can certainly improve your emotional life. and my right hip is an osteoarthritic mess for a variety of reasons. To confuse the issue. the ﬁrst form you learn uses the waist to lead the hands. It is like choosing whether to always make a ﬁst or an open hand. rather than having to do only one or the other...100
It is important to practise regularly and moderately. There is a price for practising martial arts for years or decades—injuries. Sadly. Practising martial arts can lead to a lot of unavoidable wear and tear. I ﬁnd in my own practice and teaching that the hands will often feel as if they are pulling the rest of me into the target. and these can positively affect your general health—but common sense should tell you that you remain mortal no matter how skilful you are at any aspect of baguazhang. it takes longer to recover from even minor injuries. It makes sense to me to be able to use this skill as appropriate in a martial situation. those are exactly the students who need to feel the teacher’s skill and power the most.
WHAT LEADS: THE HANDS OR THE WAIST?
Some good bagua styles seem to advocate that the hands must lead the weight of the body. As you get older. the spine whipping forward and back). and the second (which is faster and more vigorous) has the hands leading the body.
you have to know how to ﬁght. but was customary taught only to those long-term students who were trusted the most. or applying pressure to (“sealing”) these points often lies in affecting arterial blood ﬂow. as dim-mak is often called. In other words. pushing can be somewhat safer for the students than striking and grappling. many of the points work so well because attacking them also affects joints. It came about primarily to make some of the training methods a little safer for daily practice. On a pragmatic level.
Tsien-hueh. and to practise striking them on a willing partner. refers to the martial use of the acupuncture points to cause temporary or permanent damage to the Qi ﬂow and to the body. if you were a dim-mak expert. Pushing with the hands becomes an essential aspect of grappling skills. often points out that it is useless to attend seminars on death-point striking. Unfortunately. It can be percussive and shake or jar the person being pushed in that manner. In fact. you were less likely to be attacked (except by another expert who would presumably have developed the skills necessary to counteract yours). and traumatising major nerves. and everyone knew about it. My instructor on the subject.CONTROVERSIAL ISSUES
WHAT IS THE ROLE OF PUSHING?
Bagua was invented at a time in Chinese history (late 19th century) in which your opponent. whether a soldier or a brigand. dislocating bones. might be wearing leather or metal armour of some type. such theoretical knowledge is useless unless you can keep the attacker from harming you ﬁrst—that is. Having said this. the value of striking. twisting. or blood and nervous systems—you don’t want to fool around with these areas in an irre-
. No one on the street would stand around and let you hit them the way you probably practise in a martial school setting. many modern teachers don’t have enough of a martial base of any kind to be able to understand just how useful a push can be—and how limiting if that is all you can do. A good push can uproot and imbalance or topple an unstable opponent. if you struck a non-expert.
It is a legitimate aspect of learning the traditional internal martial arts. at least on rare occasion. tearing muscles and ligaments. In the old days. then it would be surprising if you didn’t feel a little nervous when hit or three weeks after the fact. organs. I also think that there may well be more to this than meets the eye. leaving them stunned and vulnerable to follow-up techniques. to memorise a number of acupuncture points. However. Similarly. even if you hadn’t done them any real physical harm—and probably would. In training. a good push can be a very useful martial tool if you do so with the whole body and not just with the arms or chest. Punching or striking armour won’t do as much good as using whole body skills to immobilise or throw an opponent protected in this way. A good push can send someone ﬂying and twisting either upwards or downwards. then they would expect to develop severe side effects. if you are convinced that I will make your left earlobe fall off three weeks after touching or hitting you on the right nipple. For example. Erle Montague.
Of course. boys and girls. if well trained at the methods but not in self-control. and it is still possible to ﬁnd modern teachers who know something about that aspect. even though they are rarely willing to teach it. wishful thinking aside. or can cause death in a training setting. and it is possible that some talented qigong doctors can emit Qi from their hands for healing. By the way. It is also true that projecting Qi in various ways is considered legitimate in Traditional Chinese Medicine. or in the throat. Also. many people continue to believe in it. I think the idea of being able to defend yourself at a distance is very seductive to the types of student that are often attracted to bagua and to the internal arts in general … until they
. martially. Self-defence skills are an essential aspect of the traditional Chinese internal arts—but there is more to those arts than martial skill. they have little place in modern life except as a curiosity. However. an expert using his Qi defensively must still be able to do everything else to keep an attacker from making contact with and hurting him before Qi can be applied. and a number of internet “masters” seem to be charging and earning large amounts of money from those who buy their books and videos and attend workshops on this subject. And. life is too short to waste it developing knowledge that is the unarmed equivalent of nuclear weapons. after all of these years of training. having said that. Dim-mak is a fascinating and legitimate aspect of the traditional internal arts. If you train to automatically attack lethal points—which are often over internal organs that are rarely easy to rupture. I have not seen any real evidence that kong-jing (“empty” force) or the ability to project Qi from a distance to affect an aggressor are anything other than an empty farce in martial terms. but their hands have to be very close to the acupuncture points they are trying to affect. a little knowledge is a dangerous thing. and the use of Qi cultivation in the internal arts—no matter how you deﬁne and explore such knowledge—should promote good health. but you should think of it as being one aspect of your higher martial education—not the be-all and end-all of your training. not destroy it. meeting. is a stupid thing to do if you are a student—and irresponsible if you are a teacher! While such martial skills may have been necessary when created in lawless times. a traditional aspect of the internal arts. Conversely. Striking the many points that are particularly vulnerable to knockout. Watch any Ultimate Fighting Match or mixed martial arts sporting match. hitting someone in a classroom setting is not the same as hitting them if they are attacking or defending with skill and aggression. unlike many of those who have produced videos and books in the English language on point striking and dim-mak concepts. and you will see ﬁghters strike and be struck on supposedly vulnerable point after point without even looking crabby about it! So.102
There is grudging admittance that dim-mak was. Erle Montague has gone out of his way to help debunk the myths and demonstrate how important it is to not practise such tactics in a haphazard manner. in regards to dim-mak. and is. or observing a variety of Chinese martial arts experts. or near the eyes—it would be astounding if you didn’t reﬂexively overreact when frightened. causing peritonitis.
and ended his mad climb on a roof. However.CONTROVERSIAL ISSUES
ﬁnd out that hard work. Another ran up the wall of a narrow alley in two bounds after a running start. took a step on the opposite wall then twisted back. sweat. move silently and swiftly as if he had teleported himself from one spot to another. If I then explain that it is not really Qi but just their subconscious co-operation (i. and one of the most common is running up walls and jumping onto rooftops. These young men. Misplaced faith is bad enough when limited to solo practice. I have to rethink my complete cynicism. and what a cynic might call stage magic. I also think that many of the martial arts “hype masters” do actually start to believe their own stories after having repeated them often enough to audiences that swallow the stories or have never seen better.. to go in search of those teachers who specialise in mystery. As I was ﬁnishing the edit for this book I started seeing a new car commercial. having just seen a television documentary about a group of French extreme sports fanatics in Paris whose idea of a good time is running along fences and rooftops at top speed. For him. by hovering that hand close to their chest. they called their sport free-running which about sums up the madness of running over cars to cross streets and along narrow railings high above street level. Tung Hai Ch’uan was reputed to have this kind of skill. For example. it is also true that a traditionalist would not argue with such a modern interpretation of Qi. Anyone who has seen a kung-fu movie has seen this concept taken to excess. it will work with a signiﬁcant proportion of them. and there are many stories about his ability to leap about like a gazelle. in which a couple of
. twisted himself around in mid-air. In fact. It is easy to be a big ﬁsh in a small pond if the people we teach have never seen the ocean and sharks. The documentary showed some of their training. this would only be an example of how one person’s stronger Qi can inﬂuence or defeat the weaker Qi of another person. were practising extreme “plyometrics”—as in hopping one-legged up all the bleachers at a soccer stadium as a warm-up for their runs through Paris. etc. And a lie repeated often enough begins to sound like the truth!
“LIGHT BODY” SKILLS
Many stories circulate about the rather fantastic abilities of internal experts of old. most of whom were experienced break dancers or extreme skate boarders who had decided that it was more challenging to do it at a run and without the use of wheels. Most of these leave the legitimate instructors. one of them jumped up from a stationary start and landed safely balanced on top of a high chain link fence.e. it is even worse when the instructor claims to teach martial techniques which only work on a student who is subconsciously co-operating with their teacher. At one point in the documentary. autosuggestion) to moving my hand towards and away from them. it will still work on a signiﬁcant proportion of the students—even though their intellectual mind knows that it is a trick. if I tell my students that I will be able to attract them towards me with the Qi in my hand. To make it even more confusing and interesting. neo-taoism. and the odd bruise are the main secrets to learning how to defend yourself.
as he is still “losing Qi” when he urinates after having engaged in retrograde emission. One method involved removing the penis surgically (a straw was inserted into the stump during the surgical process to keep the urethra from closing during the healing process). This agenda also often gets carried to ridiculous extremes by those with a sexual/emotional axe to grind. using any method to stop ejaculation is more likely to simply cause retrograde emission. In fact.
There is much weirdness in sexual matters in all cultures and I have met or heard of more than one bagua teacher (sometimes Chinese. but forced backwards into the bladder instead of being ejected immediately in the normal manner. have used castration in different forms for different cultural ends. The Knights Templar. if this kind of physical prowess is possible today. the Knights of St. then maybe the Chinese historical reports of lightness skill may not be as fanciful as we might otherwise think. in which the sperm is released. heavy smokers. John are examples of mediaeval attempts to unite the two concepts. ordinary human beings. and have continued to demonstrate that interest into old age. though. both Western (Italian castrati opera singers as recently as the 20th century) and Oriental (eunuchs of harem fame). someone who actually tries to use one of the recommended Taoist practices for preventing ejaculation is liable to only end up thinking he hasn’t ejaculated. and by the way. but—caveat emptor (translation: “let the horny beware!”)—I also think that the old Chinese approach to preventing or limiting male ejaculation to preserve vital ﬂuids and energies may often have had something to do with elderly rich men trying to satisfy the needs of a household with several wives. Too many Western students of the Chinese internal arts are looking for the archetypal master. So. his hormones and physical appearance would
. It is also relevant to point out that many of the best Chinese masters I have met were skirt chasers. there is certainly a legitimate aspect to the theories behind Taoist sexual activity from a traditional viewpoint. Abstinence as a way of purifying the monk or the warrior is an age-old tradition in both Eastern and Western cultures. So. Oh. more often not) who wraps his classes in pseudo-taoism as a way to get young sexual partners. warts and all. masters have been fond of female company. from having watched too many episodes of the old kung-fu television series as children. heavy drinkers. and attractive female maids! Anatomically. many famous. The spirit and Qi are still vital although the body grows old. the history of this kind of mutilation is quite fascinating.104
these free-runners are shown hurtling along beside the Scion car being advertised. The human body is capable of extremes. If the person survived the surgery. and not so famous. concubines. as I noted in an earlier chapter. and while I don’t want to prick anyone’s sensibilities on the subject of eunuchs. To be fair. and it is rather amazing to watch them in action. Many cultures. Sufﬁce it to say that there were different forms of castration used to produce different kinds of eunuchs. at least in rare individuals. ate whatever food was put in front of them—in other words. there are many stories about Tung Hai Ch’uan having been a eunuch.
However. and rarely. even if it was possible. And there were still adult volunteers. All methods had a high death rate. those who earned a living as body or convoy guards might garner the hard way considerable experience with other ﬁghting styles and incorporate aspects of what they survived into their own prac-
. or becoming a better ﬁghter) will be less important at the age 40 or 50. and this would affect hormonal production and physique. if ever. By middle age. a martial arts professional in China would train regularly with a competent teacher. It is very hard to come to terms with the issue of skill and wisdom coming only through long-term effort. as being ﬁxed was the only way to ensure attaining some positions in Chinese government service. time and experience also play an essential part in whether or not you are still reacting like a child to all of life’s tribulations by the time you are middle-aged. but simply an important aspect of your daily life.
As the years and the decades roll by. The other methods involved crushing the testicles or removing them surgically. if anything. There is real magic in competent instruction and diligent practice over the long term. Of course. this is partly a reﬂection of the fact that you will have improved your health and also achieved real selfdefence skills. your priorities and interests will change. I think it is also fair to say that studying any competent internal art with diligence can increase the pace at which one grows up. Coming to terms with this is also part and parcel of the maturing process as a practitioner. was done to Tung Hai Ch’uan and.CONTROVERSIAL ISSUES
remain intact. You have come to terms with both your skills and limitations as a practitioner. Sweat. so they could get the employment that required castration. an obsession. One of the best pieces of advice I have ever had from Erle is “Do your internal art to live well. learning self-defence skills. the martial skills can only be purchased through a credit card issued by the Bank of Blood. if half the stories are true about his martial abilities. and not just as a vehicle for self-improvement or good health. We all want miracles—even those who seem the most cynical want to feel as if they are tapping into something special. don’t live to do your internal art!” In the good old days. What was important at the age 25 in terms of your internal arts (e. It is also always a good idea to introduce common sense when faced with extreme views on human sexuality. developing physical skill. as well as practising on his or her own for many years. Assuming that you have shown some aptitude and have practised regularly. and learned to value your daily training for its own sake. your skills should have reached the point that the arts are no longer a major focus. In particular. but it is hardly a miracle cure for all of our physical and emotional problems. and it should tell you something about human nature and desperation that made parents take their sons to have the procedure done. I have no idea what. get the opportunity to study anything other than his system. I wouldn’t want to stick my hand down in his pants to investigate the state of his genitalia.. especially when taken out of the social and historical context in which they ﬁrst arose. and Tears.g.
However. With a coherent system. It is not that these arts are superior to the traditional arts. usually the students who are most keen to cross-train prematurely tend to focus on how the new art(s) are similar to what they already know. and lack the aptitude to absorb not only the similarities. as opposed to trying to analyse how the new system or teacher does things differently. shuai-jiao or Chinese wrestling. or learned Western boxing skills. From my limited experience. either in-depth or superﬁcially. I am equally sure that even more are only fooling themselves and their own students with their abilities. You have to learn to relax as much as necessary to avoid injury. In
. it was not acceptable. Unfortunately. Sadly. sometimes not. sometimes padded with old mattresses. or qigong to their bloated curriculums! It is quite depressing to surf the net and see website after website promoting these new styles to the general martial public. there is no reason to completely focus on any one range of ﬁghting to the exclusion of the others. or wu-shu style bagua form. most modern practitioners don’t have a solid foundation before they go off studying other approaches. add a slow taiji form. but we should not assume that people with martial genius don’t exist anymore. but the differences between the arts they are learning. for starting to develop skills that would be useful against a real attack by someone who has some experience and skill at real ﬁghting. In any case. as sometimes the differences are subtle. being thrown. I recommend spending proportionately more time on stand-up ﬁghting skills if your concern is more self-defence rather than sport. or are creating a new style to make money or boost their egos.106
tice. the feel of being grappled at close quarters) with the minimum of tension. it is essential to study arts that have some form of body contact. I think it is important for the serious martial student to learn the basics of both stand-up ﬁghting and ground ﬁghting in the early stages of training. it has been my experience that those modern internal arts teachers who actually have some real combat skills have either done judo or Western wrestling. There are not too many modern Sun Lu Tangs or Chen Pan Lings. being hit with some power. for many purposes. it is just that the serious student will learn how to take body contact and physical abuse (falling. While I am sure that some of these innovators are doing their best and may even have something to offer to beginners. And. to train with several teachers. Perhaps. The same is also true of those taiji schools where the students have learned to absorb impact by allowing themselves to be hurled into walls. Particularly. In modern times. Cross-training when you have a solid foundation in one art can really help the learning process in the other Chinese internal and external arts. some martial artists have spent much time and effort studying a variety of systems. as they move into middle age. For example. part of the problem with the reputation of cross-training lies in the very glut of “young masters” who study one or two years each of a variety of hard styles and then. except under rare circumstances. the latter category of teacher or practitioner usually doesn’t spend enough time at any of the secondary arts to really understand how they are different from what has already been learned. After students are proﬁcient with basic stand up and ground ﬁghting techniques. albeit in controlled manner. covering the foundations of both. it can be problematic to sort the wheat from the chaff.
The longer I teach and train. This. and he was very right in some ways. “If I have reached any heights in my skill. I have learned and/or discarded many forms and methods from taiji. but I have met very few in almost 30 years of doing martial arts. a few geniuses can skip stage one and arrive at the ﬁnal stage. why practise at all? In the last ﬁfteen years. but in the seniors categories. shaolin. you will see older competitors—although they usually don’t compete with younger ﬁghters. it is only from standing on the shoulders of giants!” This is a sentiment that I now understand. Chinese or otherwise. and liu he ba fa. It has been an oftentimes lonely and frustrating journey for various reasons. both Chen and Yang taiji.The greatest bagua.CONTROVERSIAL ISSUES
particular. as well as qigong of different types. The late Jou Tsung Hwa said that you have to be your own teacher. hsing-i. or come out and say that they are masters of many styles. On the other hand. hsing-i. you will ﬁnd that most of the participants are young. this means having learned how to do break falls and rolls that might actually work on surfaces other than mats or tatami. I suppose. It seems to me that it eventually becomes essential for a serious student of any good approach to the internal arts to ﬁnd a “retirement package”—as the desire to experience and do everything is as counterproductive in the long run as being too narrow in your focus and only following one approach to being internal. If you look carefully at any combat art or sport (the ones which actually involve some form of non-cooperative contact ﬁghting). the truer it seems that real understanding can only come from having as wide as possible an experience of competent forms of martial art and then practising more and more of less and less. I have met a few over the years who actually are good at a variety of arts—but these are few and far between. The average “generalist” of this kind is only fooling himself and his students by teaching one or two main styles and a smattering of forms or methods from the other arts. IT BEARS EMPHASISING THAT YOU CANNOT UNDERSTAND A STYLE BY LEARNING ONE OR TWO OF ITS FORMS. bagua. If you go to judo tournaments. hsing-i and bagua. seems like a paradox. Erle has also said more than once. or taiji master alive will fare no better on the ground than a complete beginner if they haven’t actually practised ground ﬁghting. One aspect of the Chinese martial arts that has always made me a little grumpy is the tendency for instructors to imply. whose business card or ﬂyers list him or her as a master of wing-chun. but very wrong in that the average beginner has no hope of developing real skill of any kind unless he or she has competent instruction from role models who are good at both teaching and doing whatever is being taught. True experiential learning of any mind/body discipline is ﬁrst a process of accumulation. How long can one realistically hope to apply ground ﬁghting techniques? It will depend on the person. how many competitive boxers do you see past age 30? Not many! Understanding a principle and knowing how to ﬁght are not the same. If understanding a principle translated into actual ability. and it is—the internal arts are full of them. It is not uncommon to meet a teacher. and then a process of de-cluttering and simpliﬁcation. of course.
Years ago I was friends with a 50 year-old man who was learning taijiquan “for fun. Boxing has had its ups and downs over the decades. he and I both fall in the ﬁrst category! Here is the problem in a nutshell—if you study one art deeply. you will learn a great deal. Hopefully. It has the advantage of simplicity. spending a year in one system and six months in another. black belt or not. but the sweet science is just as profound in its principles and techniques as any of the other martial arts when it is welltaught and well-practised. but you also limit your potential for growth by not studying how other systems do the same thing slightly (or greatly) differently. Finally. here is another internal arts conundrum about the difference in the three main internal arts. If you are young and ﬁt. and Taiji is a walled fortress from which the defenders make sudden sallies.” He had been an amateur and professional boxer and still trained and coached young boxers. I would put my money on an experienced Western boxer (even an older. As self-defence skills go.”
. while the average expert understands one strategy to a greater or lesser degree. I would recommend boxing as a great martial sport to explore. if you dabble in workshops and instructors. Conversely. It was both sadly funny and instructional to see him ﬂatten the younger and ﬁtter taiji instructors who sparred with him at the school where we trained. and its only disadvantages are the stamina and conditioning required. you can gain a superﬁcial veneer or knowledge but will never actually learn anything in depth. I is phrased in the context of my university degree in ancient and mediaeval history:“Hsing-i is the impenetrable stability and shock of a square of heavy infantry with spears. making it a young man’s art. Bagua is the swift fury and unpredictable tactics of light cavalry.108
I was discussing this issue with a colleague the other day. and we agreed that only the best and the worst students attended a lot of workshops and did serious cross-training. out-of-shape exponent) who has to ﬁght any type of modern martial artist. Martial geniuses can mobilise and use effectively all of these. Anyone who says an experienced boxer is automatically inferior to a traditional martial artist has never had the experience of being hit by one.
Bagua also became famous for its use of very large weapons. if he can get within the range of that longer weapon. the need to become skilful at defending against. and spears. The movements associated with each bagua weapon help to develop the body in ways that are not often easily accomplished through empty-hand forms and exercises. the oversized bagua “knives” (dao. or a pair of shorter weapons. Incidentally. When you can see the blade bending ﬂoppily as the wielder does his form. two short—the sword and broadsword. For this purpose bagua uses the common weapons of that era. It is hard to be impressed by the modern versions of these forms demonstrated with light and overly ﬂexible replicas of the original weapons. However. In fact. For example. Various styles utilised extra heavy and long straight swords. as broadswords are called in Chinese) were originally meant to cut the legs out from under a horse. developing stronger muscles) to practising with an oversized weapon of any kind. long spears were designed to be used en masse to hold off groups of cavalry or masses of similarly armed men. It also specialised in a variety of smaller edged weapons of various shapes. I am not sure that oversized weapons are ever of any real value in combat outside of their original purpose under certain battleﬁeld conditions. Having a weapon in one or both hands changes the ways in which you can move and necessitates
. it is less impressive in terms of the potential martial value of the performance. They are of less use at close range. and oversized chopping weapons are of limited use when ﬁghting in close quarters or in an urban setting. They were not for duels between men on foot.Chapter Seven
Weapons Forms & Function
In the old days. as the skilful man with a shorter weapon. broadswords. this is not my cup of tea. has a real advantage against the fellow with the big cumbersome weapon. the most famous of which were the Deer Horn Knives. a variety of edged and blunt impact weapons was a necessity for those with bagua skills while employed as bodyguards or as professional escorts for groups travelling between the cities. so you could more easily get at the opponent riding the animal. and using. and two long—the staff and spear. There are certain training beneﬁts (relearning the balance of a top-heavy weapon.
double sword. There are a host of weapons used in solo and partner training: sword. and limits its martial function.110
a heightened sense of awareness of your body and the space through which both you and the weapon(s) move. although it is best not to sharpen the blade—even if the quality of the blade allows for that—until you are sure you are doing everything properly and safely. Getting a well-balanced combat steel sword or broadsword. Lacrosse. You rarely get what you think you are buying quality-wise from the Chinese mass-produced wu-shu weapons factories. but these new skills become even more crucial when you are trying to be attentive of someone else who is trying to use a weapon against you. and side to side.
TRADITIONAL WEAPONS TRAINING
As in all Chinese martial systems. You can also improvise more complete protective outﬁts from hockey. This is hard enough to achieve when practising by yourself. like the famous semicircular swords and the “judge’s pens. Real quality replica weapons are worth the expense for the serious practitioners although you should be prepared to pay hundreds of dollars to get quality—assuming you can ﬁnd such in North America. as these are prime targets for many techniques. Practice with metal weapons can be reserved to solo form practice. you had to not only know how to use at least one weapon in a practised and efﬁcient manner. single-handed and two-handed broadsword. staff. Not just for safety but also to minimise the strain in your wrists and arms. and it can get expensive replacing broken equipment. So. in the old days. as well as a variety of weird and wonderful specialty weapons. It is best to practise applications only with wooden weapons at ﬁrst. axe. One of the greatest beneﬁts of training with any weapon is learning how the shape and structure of each weapon affects. will be very difﬁcult and expensive. helmets. the wooden and cheap metal weapons available today tend to splinter or break fairly easily. determines. While all
. and knife. protective gear on your hands. No easy answers once you add weaponry to the equation of developing advanced bagua martial skills. You have to learn not only to control your body and its six directions. you need to spend some time holding and using a weapon to see if the balance and weight is suitable to your needs and level of expertise. up and down. but you also had to have some idea of how each of the other types of weapons you were liable to have to ﬁght against would operate in the hands of a skilled opponent. but also extend that to the weapon(s) moving forward and back. By the way.” The later are metal rods with a swivelling ring that ﬁts over your middle ﬁnger to allow you to grip and twirl these handleless ice picks. forearms and elbows. Any solo form designed to teach the use of an edged weapon is best done with a good quality metal weapon. much less Deer Horn Knives. It also doesn’t hurt to wear safety glasses. spear. weapon training is an essential aspect of traditional bagua. and BMX bicycling gear and look like an extra in a cheap rip-off of the classic Road Warrior epic as a bonus. I have not had much luck buying metal weapons by mail order. In addition.
WEAPONS FORMS & FUNCTION
weapons share similarities within their broad categories—long or short. you will need a fair bit of privacy. edged or impact. they are based on traditional sets that have been modiﬁed according to my understanding of broadsword use.” If I may speak to my own students for a moment. especially if you plan to teach bagua at some point. and the best way to discover what works best for you is to experiment with a variety of grips. each has special attributes and limitations that you must get accustomed to. It is relatively easy to achive competency with broadsword. and to have some comprehension of the main characteristics of usage for the others. The complexity is in having a grip ﬂexible enough to allow you to manipulate the weapon easily while still retaining the strength to absorb an impact without losing your grip on the weapon. There is literally no point in learning the weapon if you cannot practise it for lack of indoor training space—remember winter! Practising in a park is an option. I make no pretensions that I can provide expert weapon training. More than one of my students have had the police arrive to question them when someone phoned in a complaint that “some crazy guy is waving a sword in the park. the broadsword was the weapon of choice of many practitioners. Although the solo form and applications that you will be learning don’t come from Erle Montaigue. There are different theories as to which ﬁngers should be used. This is why it was the primary weapon of common soldiers in ancient Chinese armies. It is very efﬁcient against a variety of other weapons.
Throughout bagua’s relatively short history. especially when used in conjunction with internal body mechanics. but from what I have seen of modern bagua—what I teach is pretty good func-
. It is also true that much of the difﬁculty in learning to hold a weapon properly comes from developing the proper grip using only the thumb and one or two ﬁngers. It is not easy to learn this. One of the hardest skills to learn is how to hold each weapon with just the right amount of power and muscular force. Even some relatively skilful practitioners will discover that they are not as relaxed or as strong as they thought when trying to master the correct grip with the required ﬂexibility of wrist and elbow. especially those who worked as bodyguards and caravan escorts. but this is not China. If you are planning to practise in the park or your backyard. These forms need lots of space for practice—an important consideration. I believe that it is important to develop a minimal understanding of the solo form and martial usage for at least one of the following weapons. and you won’t if you never train with a partner and actually practise a variety of applications with him or her. and pedestrians are not used to the sight of ﬂailing swords the way they are in Shanghai or Beijing. as with any of the more traditional forms. It is also true that all weapons are the same in the sense that they can only be properly used by a skilful practitioner whose skills have become such that he or she could literally pick up any item and use it as an improvised weapon in an emergency. This weapon has always been a mainstay of all styles of Chinese Wu-shu (literally “war arts”).
as a last resort. and fun. Training Tips: • One of the hardest things to get used to in the solo form is the use of the wrist and the elbow to help generate the circles created by coordinating footwork with the use of the waist. Because the broadsword is a single-edged weapon. bagua included. it is essential to remember that one of the key concepts is disarming your opponent. remember that the guard is a useful tool for knocking the attacker’s weapon out of range for a quick counter-attack of your own. the palm. and the practitioner usually keeps the blade in front of the body to protect himself. remember to use the palm—not the ﬁngers—and to keep your ﬁnger tips where they belong on your fingers. or vital points. and its characteristics suit my build. is a process of learning how to efﬁciently employ the factors of distance and angle. blocked the attacker’s weapon. its comparative weight and the somewhat top-heavy design of the blade makes it an excellent weapon only for someone with the size and strength to wield it—a lumberjack’s axe with a three foot razor edge. If you are studying bagua elsewhere and can only learn this weapon. doesn’t take too much space to perform (compared to the other traditional weapon forms). Using the broadsword is no different. The study of any competent traditional internal style. or. The motions are often short and quick. especially if the opponent is attempting to use the same tactics. • When bracing the weapon. so to speak. applying the right amount of pressure to the opponent’s blade with yours and be aware of the other fellow’s hilt if
. the movements of the broadsword are best suited to a heavier or taller practitioner although anyone—no matter what their relative size—can beneﬁt. Many different aspects of your bare hand training will become clearer as you seek to apply the principles of bagua to this weapon. Bagua ﬁghters were renowned for their skill at applying close quarter ﬁghting tactics. and generate short power in a speciﬁc manner. deﬂected.112
tionally. and I don’t just mean knocking the weapon out of his hand although that is a legitimate application whenever possible. torso. • When connecting to the attacker’s weapon. Even a marginal understanding of combative function will help make your solo form work challenging. Do not allow them to protrude where an opportunistic attacker might be tempted to slice them off with a sudden change of direction of his weapon’s edge. try to ﬁnd an instructor who actually knows what they are doing. forearm. as it is not overly complicated. Once you have parried. if you are planning a career as a caravan guard. or even the body of the wielder can be pressed against the dull side at times to assist in blocking or deﬂecting actions and to express whole body power at close range. I suggest you start searching for a more competent weapon’s master than me! The broadsword is primarily used at medium and short range against a variety of weapons. you must immediately try to cut the hand or arm controlling it before trying to ﬁnish off the attacker with a cut to the head. Like hsing-i. A slicing weapon. you have to be sensitive. However. To be able to do this. I am quite fond of this form. • In training applications. rewarding.
and 3/4 to an inch in diameter. You must learn to use the weight of the sabre. I have seen one or two forms demonstrated in North America that seem to be shortened versions of the same set. and. he told me that very few WTBA members were still practising. what I teach is not too bad in martial function. The bagua staff can vary in length although the shortest (for indoor practice) should be determined by placing one end of the staff on the ﬂoor and measuring to the height of your eyebrows.e. as well as martial effectiveness in the use of angles around the body. This is one way to learn to really relax the shoulder. Getting smashed in the face by the butt end of the handle of his sword or broadsword would be very distracting! • Practising competently should teach you about extending your reach and force to the tip and the edge of the weapon. and the amount of ﬂoor space that it takes to practise. twisting.. • The bold. Have you ﬁgured out this bagua conundrum yet—ﬁnding triangles in circles and the circles in triangles? • If you don’t keep your balance when advancing. including your partner’s staff. Every stroke should cut cleanly along one of the eight cardinal directions in the triangles that ﬁll your circle.g. or used.. and wrist. so it is more suitable for use as an introduction to this weapon. For outside usage. sticking and striking. to learn how to generate power from relatively short distances without having the reverberations rebound into your own hands. Although the solo form and applications I teach to my more experienced bagua students don’t come from Erle Montaigue. The strikes are best thought of as chopping slices. Many of the techniques for this long weapon are adaptable to those used with a spear. elbow. as it is done in straight lines. I make no pretensions that I can provide expert weapon training. a somewhat shorter staff that had a spearhead at each end. you are liable to fall over from your misguided momentum if your stroke falls on emptiness (i. This solo set is done in a circular pattern and has a limited number of techniques. and longer is not necessarily better. Doing a well-structured broadsword form properly is like being inside a steel cage or at the centre of a hurricane. Some styles of bagua also use. however. Training methods include striking various objects. When I have asked him in recent years. as it usually has only one sharp edge. wide-swinging tactics of this weapon should have elegance and smoothness. doing a somersault over the staff). your target had the skill to move at the last moment). As with the broadsword. It should not be too much longer than eight feet. it is a little safer to do so when you ﬁrst start exploring weapons. they are based on traditional bagua staff sets that have been modiﬁed according to my understanding of this weapon. it should be proportional to your height. The whip-like force generated in many of the sweeping strikes is expressed through the forward end of the staff in blocking.WEAPONS FORMS & FUNCTION
you are at close range. the physical complexity of some of the moves (e.
THE LONG STAFF
The bagua solo staff form that Erle used to teach is a very difﬁcult one to practise due to the extraordinary number of techniques. but it is often a rather hard way of learning to do so.
. much less teaching this form. not depend on it to power your stroke.
the shock of being struck by the end of a hardwood or waxwood staff is nothing that can be ignored. Training Tips: • The staff is usually held with at least half of the shaft ahead of the lead hand. Functionally. stick. if demanding set. • Some of the thrusting actions are done with a screwing action forward and back. the staff is often taken over the head. using two edged weapons is much harder than it looks. If you were doing this with a spear. • There are swinging movements in which both hands are held quite close together at one end of the staff and. As you use a short straight sword in each hand. and is a wave-like momentum developed by the practitioner’s lower back. Movements to the left and right. and waist. It is a lovely. and that this was considered a good sign among practitioners. as you retract a thrust. the changes of the circular solo set must be done on both sides of the body. it also means that your weapon will take longer to retrieve to a more secure grip. as such defensive moves are frequent and can vary from blocking an overhand strike down to your head to setting up a throw if your weapon is grabbed with two hands by an unwary opponent. A few cuts and scrapes
. you should ﬁnd that there is a shaking quality to the business end of a thrust or swing. the sharp metal of the edges of the spearhead would sever or injure the hand(s) trying to grapple or immobilise your weapon. and this is an essential aspect of traditional staff and spear work. Twisting in the opposite direction. spine.114
The staff moves through diagonal planes around the practitioner to strike and to intimidate. while this can increase your reach suddenly to confound an opponent. The wrist and shoulder may add to this force. and I gather that not many members of the WTBA practise it anymore—which is a shame. although there are postures that use the stick with the hands positioned so that you have three equal lengths with your two hands as the dividing points. assists in snatching back your weapon if the opponent is able to grab the shaft. or be used to change the direction subtly if the stroke is used as a defence and followed by a thrusting action. Thrusting attacks using the tip of the staff move ﬁercely along a single line. Twisting it forward increases penetration. • Assuming that your weapon is long enough and made from good quality wood. and the forward wrist is used to direct the weapon. There is a tendency not to pay enough attention to one sword while wielding the other.
DOUBLE SWORD FORM
This form was the ﬁrst of Erle’s bagua weapon forms that I learned back in the early nineties. or up and down are controlled by the rear hand. Even without a metal spearhead. Striking force is generated near the end of each posture. This makes for a very long sequence indeed. and circle in defence and attack. as well as to move the forward end of the staff to parry. • Unlike the edged weapons.
WEAPONS FORMS & FUNCTION
from a metal sword from carelessness while practising on your own can soon set you straight in solo practise, but it takes longer to learn about in applications. When gripping each sword, one must learn to do so gently but ﬁrmly with two ﬁngers and the thumb, not all ﬁve ﬁngers as this lessens the ability to twirl the swords with the wrists. Done properly, these twirling actions are not for the show, but serve speciﬁc martial purposes, such as diverting an intercepted attack downwards and then twirling the blades to effect a counter-cut immediately after. The internal energy may be manifested in the sword as a quivering of the blade during fa-jing movements, or as a sharp penetrating movement generated by the spine and legs. The jian, whether long or relatively short, as in this case (each blade should be 26–30 inches in length, depending on your relative height), is a double-edged blade that literally cuts both ways, and is as effective on the backstroke as on the advance. The footwork is nimble and lively, and half of the use of a straight sword of any length is learning to sidestep and evade attacks as much as parry or block them. The last tactic is reserved for emergencies and done with the thicker bottom third of the blade. The jian is often compared to a Chinese dragon: fast, graceful, and frightening. Where you would block with the broadsword, you dodge with the straight sword; where you would slam, you slice; where you would charge, you circle or sidestep. However, unlike the sabre, the sword is never allowed to cut above the crown of the head for a variety of reasons. For example, you wouldn’t want to sever your connection with the Yang energy of Heaven, would you? Of course, a pragmatic dullard might also think that doing this makes it less likely that you will accidentally scalp yourself while swinging the bloody thing. On the other hand, let me add that competent internal swordsmen will use some movements that make it superﬁcially look as if the sword has gone over the head. However, if you examine the posture carefully you will see that the wielder has actually swung his arm and the hilt and blunt part of the lower blade over his head and not the edged part of the blade. To the casual observer there is not much apparent difference, but the wielder is less likely to cut or hit himself with the sword in this way. To be effective, you must connect your blade, not the edge, to the opponent’s and then use the weight and movement of your body to simultaneously deﬂect his blade and affect his balance. This should create an immediate opportunity to slice the wrist or arm that holds the sword to literally “disarm” him or her prior to a ﬁnishing stroke, if such is necessary. While it is sometimes okay to trade blows with an unarmed opponent if you have a better target, it is never so with edged weapons. You must evade, parry, or block every attack, and your opponent likewise. This sword form looks best when done by someone agile and tall with long arms. It can be practised with beneﬁt by anyone, and is particularly suited to women and smaller men, as it relies on speed and precision rather than weight. However, using the sword (or two in this case) is not easy, especially if one strives to develop real skill, as opposed to doing a form. It is very demanding of a supple wrist that is really connected to the waist and feet. As to weight and stiffness of the blade—I am afraid that heavier is better when attempting to replicate realistic combat skills, as opposed to the light weapons used in wu-shu perfor-
mance skills-oriented forms. The people who enter competitions have weapons with blades bending like tinfoil. The lighter the weapon, the faster they can move, and they don’t have to worry about striking armour or another better quality sword.… I have also read and been told by more than one instructor that the intensive study of the sword is an excellent way to both health and enlightenment in the long run. I went through a long period of time in which I had little interest in weapons training of any kind; but now I derive a great deal of satisfaction from the forms I practise. Certainly, the sword has been imbued with a spiritual quality in many societies—both Western and Oriental. I am sure Sigmund Freud would have something to say about the signiﬁcance of swords to men, but then again he seems to have been more than a little obsessed with the penis himself ! Training Tips: • Although it appears otherwise, you must never move both swords at exactly the same time in any of the postures, as one blade will be defending, parrying, blocking, or sticking the attacker’s weapon while the other cuts the attacker. • When thrusting, it is customary to keep the blade ﬂat when attacking the upper part of the body, so that the blade can slip between the ribs and not get stopped by bone, only inﬂicting a superﬁcial wound. • When defending, the knee joints are also useful targets, as the attacker would have trouble hurting you if he cannot walk properly or stand on two feet anymore. • Blocking is normally done with both weapons against a heavier or longer weapon, and you will try to use the last half of the blades of your weapons to do so, as that would be the thickest, strongest parts of real swords.
DEER HORN KNIVES
These weapons, also called Crescent Swords or Mandarin Duck Knives, are always used in pairs.They are short-range martial tools especially designed to disarm the opponent and be effective against a variety of types of long and short traditional weapons. One of the ﬁght scenes in the recent kung-fu epic Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon shows a ﬁght scene between one of the villains and a bounty hunter who uses a pair of these weapons. Deer Horn Knives come in a variety of sizes. The ones used in Erle’s form are of the rarer Bei-jing variation with one of the forward prongs twice as long as the other. They can be used for thrusting as well as locking and cutting. At the basic level, you block or check the attackers’s weapon with one of yours while counter-attacking with the other. Using this weapon properly also requires that ideally you attack the opponent’s hand which is holding the weapon, rather than just making contact blade on blade. Of course, this requires that your appreciation of timing and distance must be much better than your opponent’s. The knives are difﬁcult for an opponent to wrestle from your grip, as there are four points and seven edges in seemingly every direction near the handle. This means also that they can
WEAPONS FORMS & FUNCTION
cut the wielder as well as the opponent. In one motion, the back hook may block a weapon while the front hook strikes, followed by a ripping cut from one of the edges. As the knife is withdrawn, the other hooks on it may slash through the area of ﬁrst contact. I have had the chance over the years to see and handle two pairs of these weapons. One set was a reproduction of an antique pair, handmade by a metalworker who collected antique Chinese weapons. The other pair were supposed to be antiques from the turn of the century. Neither pair were identical in design to each other or to the ones we have and use in my classes. Both pairs seemed well-balanced and potentially lethal. Neither of them had sharpened edges on the two short prongs that protect the wielder’s hand, and neither of those prongs had sharp tips, which makes sense from the premise of protecting the hands holding the weapons. Erle Montaigue states that the originals used for the form he teaches had points and edges everywhere, but told me that one can use the ones without the sharp edges for safety reasons. However, once one becomes proﬁcient, it is a ﬁnal test of your ability to do the form properly using the knives with all sharpened edges. Erle’s solo form is an excellent example of how a weapon form can be demanding and simple all at the same time. I recommend it highly to those who have some skill and interest in developing a bagua weapon. Training Tips: • It is very difﬁcult to use these weapons at ﬁrst if you don’t have very strong and ﬂexible wrists and elbows, and many of the postures demand a great deal of precision to avoid hitting yourself in the hands and the head while practising. I have given myself some nasty cuts with the blunt metal weapons that I practise with, as have the three students who are learning this set from me. • The applications are often quite simple if you have the requisite bagua body mechanics. One of the keys to effective application is to remember that you will often try to stick and check the attacker’s weapon with one of yours while trying to slide up his weapon to cut his hand and trying to get a vital target with the other knife. • These weapons are very good for taking off heads, and I am told that this was the tactic of preference in the old days—block or evade, and use one or both blades (in a scissoring action) to cut off the head, or, at the very least, slice through the neck. The other characteristic use of this weapon is to trap a blade between the two front prongs, and by twisting your knife suddenly wrench the weapon out of the other person’s grip or, if that fails, immobilise the weapon for the moment that it takes you to counter-attack with your other knife.
While these solo and application sets have little functional role in self-defence in the modern age of guns and biological weapons, they remain important tools for reﬁning your understanding of bagua, and they can also be a lot of fun to practise. You remember having fun, don’t you?
Particularly for more advanced practitioners who have become a little complacent about their skill levels. Oh. and of discovering how little you really know about the big picture of the traditional martial arts. and remember my mother’s advice from the section in Chapter Five on defending against knives.…
. learning to use these weapons can be a way of exploring subtle aspects of the training.
you should be able to say “No. Consequently. Sadly. both theoretically and practically. but the variety in itself can be stimulating to the inquiring student with a drive to understand which of these lesser role models is on track for any particular topic. the ones he ﬁrst made were probably still pretty damn good. rather than having the attention of the chief instructor. I am sure that even though Stradivari was producing superior violins at the end of his career. This is not an easy way to learn as the quality of teaching will vary from senior student to senior student. or personal genius to bring anything new and valuable to any aspect of the traditional curriculums without ruining what came before. this also implies that the students you teach a decade or two down the road will get better instruction than those you taught at the beginning of your career.
Teaching and Ethics
The instructors I have met over the years whom I respect the most have said that their art has to keep growing and changing to remain anything beyond a museum piece. the ﬂip side of this issue is that most teachers don’t have the skills. It is also true that those who learn in traditional clubs with large group classes will be learning mostly from senior students. and your interest in teaching is of less relevance than the wishes of the chief instructor. Everyone has to start somewhere on every journey. However. if it is of any consolation to those who realise that they were the early students of a particular teacher. before he or she begins to do so. Of course. a teacher should be an expert in what he or she is teaching. experience. it is equally true that teaching can make a good practitioner and teacher even better with time. a good teacher will assign coaching roles only to those apprentice instructors with the requisite skills and will be present at most of the classes if needed. in a more modern bagua environment you may have to decide if you want to teach. in some more traditional bagua environments you will be expected to teach as part of the long-term learning process. Similarly. Conversely. But. thanks!” without repercussions. If you don’t want to be a coach for those junior to you in the student body. In theory.
Deciding that you are ready and want to start teaching is one thing. the more I realise that teaching and reteaching the basics is essential for most students. Unless you are fortunate enough to be under the supervision of a competent instructor in a group of some size and quality. quite another—to explain and demonstrate your performance in such a way that you help someone else along the same path you have followed. this should be resisted. It is one thing is to be able to do a form or training method. Failing to do so with a more traditionally-minded teacher can have repercussions. long-term instructor. cheats the students of the potential of this great discipline. there are lots of things to consider: teaching yet another group of beginners who don’t look as if they can lift the TV remote control. even though most students (especially the ones with aptitude) will get bored with these fundamentals before realising how important they are. having spent much time teaching basics to others. and after 3–5 years you have some experience helping your instructor to coach the newer students. and you ﬁnd that you have some interest or aptitude for teaching on your own—with or without your teacher’s formal blessing. though courtesy seems to be a dying art and politically incorrect these days. In the old days. either during class or after.
WHAT AND HOW YOU TEACH
The longer I teach.120
SHOULD YOU TEACH?
So. much less balance brieﬂy on one leg. trying to ﬁnd the time and energy to practise for yourself. as it does nothing for the art and. It is also tempting to simplify the material to make it more accessible to a larger number of students. It is always courteous to ask your teacher if you have his or her permission to start classes on your own. Seriously though.
. let’s assume that you have put in your time as a beginner and intermediate level student. less is more—the larger the curriculum (especially for beginners). As a teaching novice. not to mention the few ﬁtful moments of practice that most of them will do on their own. there is also the issue of often having to create your own training partners to be able to practise the two-person methods and forms. you wouldn’t have dared to teach without the permission of a respected. (Being ignored from then on as part of his or her “martial arts family” is the mildest and most common. adjusting to being the role model instead of a student is another.) It also makes sense to be part of a larger organisation to be seen as legitimate by potential students although the bagua/Chinese internal arts world is full of fascinating loners as well. However. the less time there is for them to develop skills at any one thing in one or two hours a week of class time. For many reasons today. it is essential to realise that in teaching the principles and methods to your students. this is rarely the case. but. in the long run. in general. Whoops! Those were some of the many reasons not to teach. teaching can teach the teacher many valuable lessons about his or her own understanding of the art. maintaining your enthusiasm when only one or two students bother to make an appearance at a group class.
However. the majority of adult students respond best to structure and gentle discipline. nowadays most students—even the better ones—will feel herculean in their dedication if they come to class three times a week for about an hour.” It is true that the occasional exceptional student will be best served by being taught in detail right from the beginning. (You never know when you will be attacked by someone on horseback!) Few in any group of beginners will bother to practise what little they learn—let alone make the effort necessary to advance to the deeper aspects of the art—outside of the formal class times. structure is not a dirty word unless you become too rigid in how you run your classes—aside from the basics. In this light. or the tendency to stand around when not being supervised as it often happens in group classes. there is a common hidden agenda with Western students who expect that paying you will entitle them to have a say in the way they are taught! This applies particularly to private students who are able to afford the extra cost and are probably used to manipulating those around with their greater buying power. remember that the people in your classes are supposed to be there to take your advice if only for the hour or so you teach them. this also means that the teacher must remember the basic ways of doing the various forms and not just move on to whatever level he or she is ready for and forget the material that is no longer relevant to their level of expertise. not left to practise on their own. and those making the comments are usually pleased with this difference. whether you are a novice or experienced instructor. In some ways. It is not easy to predict how quickly a particular student will make progress.TEACHING AND ETHICS
In the good old days students often studied with their teacher every day before going to work or in the evening after work. It is important to structure your classes. Progress is always an individual matter. as they can move from one level of form practice to another without
.” As with any peak performance. providing only proof that it is possible for them to fa-jing or do a leaping kick. a little variety in how the classes are run from month to month can be a good thing. Don’t bend over backwards to be accommodating to them. With others. life is simpler for those who don’t teach. It is not easy to decide whether or not a student should learn in stages or “thrown into the water. the breakthrough will fade almost immediately. which need a lot of attention. As long as it is done with courtesy and common sense. Some students can come to class obsessively and still make little progress while others make the most of one or two hours of class time per week. I have often been told that there is a great deal of structure to my classes compared to other kung-fu classes that the beginner may have done elsewhere. It is important to “show off ” to the students once in a while to remind them that you still have some “value added” and to provide the visual stimulus some students on the edge of a big breakthrough will need to suddenly “get it. it is equally true that the majority of students have to learn to crawl before they walk—much less run! Of course. some who have those breakthroughs will hang onto the experience and use it to transform their performance from then on. In fact. or to humour their idle chitchat. Unfortunately. as most beginners want to feel that they are being supervised and led.
although I have been criticised for it on occasion—some beginners want and expect their instructor to be solemn. teaching what you know is one of the best ways of improving your understanding of the material and deepening it—so it is worth the effort and frustration for a few years at the very least. I don’t think it is ever appropriate to date or be intimate with your students). one way of judging the quality of the teacher is observing their bagua group training—if none of the long-term students have any real skill despite the teacher having desirable qualities. and don’t get discouraged or take it personally if you have almost no one left after the ﬁrst few weeks you start a class. You even have to think twice about socialising with them too much. and it is usually well-received. after ﬁve or ten years. On the positive side. Sometimes. some will enjoy it a little too much. There are always groupies in any teaching relationship.122
having to remember or practise the difference between the form they do now. to develop your own style of teaching. Some of the old-time relationship between teacher and student was feudal and abusive. The teachers spoke poor or indifferent English and were unable to easily explain the subtleties of the art to those who were not Chinese. In particular. in the long run. you can assume that something is wrong with the curriculum. There should be no need to be a Master to get the respect of the students that you want to keep. in case they misinterpret or try to use the relationship to their advantage. Any good approach should be transmittable to at least a few people.
. Don’t forget that they need you more than you need them. It is also true that some talented practitioners are useless as instructors through lack of teaching or verbal skills. The real reward comes from those times when you watch a group of your students and notice magic in their movements. and not be the sole property of the instructor who may be relying on his personal genius and experience to make dubious material work. and I no longer try! It is essential.e. and the form they were taught as a beginners. conversely. There is very little demand for quality internal arts of any kind. it is important to get to know your students before you start “laying on hands” to reposition them manually when trying to teach abdominal breathing or how to use their bodies properly. the language issue helps to explain why the level of bagua practice in the ﬁrst few decades of it being introduced to non-Chinese in North America and Europe was relatively low. which can leave the client open to emotional or physical abuse (i. and it is important to discourage such emotional dependence. Oh. watching your students ﬂounder is a powerful reminder that you may not have “got it” quite as much as you think. it is also easy to allow those you teach to treat you too casually. or see smiles and hear laughter even though they are working hard. Many people are uncomfortable with any touching. In terms of physical teaching style. on the other hand. In fact. and some who are less talented as practitioners are very good at coaching others to excellence. I use a lot of humour while teaching.. You can’t please every potential student.
Oh. If you have suitable free space. such as whether you live in an area that is zoned to allow such activities in a residence. and it used to be considered an honour to be invited to teacher’s house for studies. once you know the student. It is very distracting to do as I have done and hold your classes in the foyer of a large building (listening to vacuuming after hours is no fun) or in a boardroom full of furniture that has to be moved out of the way for each class and replaced when it is over! Teaching in your home. the danger is that some men will confuse what she is offering with what men often want from an unknown woman who invites them into her house. This also brings up practical issues. teaching at home is ideal for private classes. like bagua forms. wet. let alone forms and partner work.TEACHING AND ETHICS
WHERE YOU TEACH
Traditionally. lots of loud music. if you have the space. Conversely. or work through lunch or late into the evening. you may ﬁnd it impossible to teach the weapons forms from lack of space to swing the weapons freely. Finally. that must be learned sequentially. It is very difﬁcult to teach even the basics of qigong and walking the circle. However. other members talking. freezing. I don’t practise outside in hot and humid. in such a distracting environment. In addition. many workers have good intentions about attending noon-hour or after-hours programs. parks were used as training grounds. assume that someone competent will have a more commercial location. Anything. the worst places to teach tend to be ﬁtness centres in government or big business complexes. in the ﬁrst case at
. or perhaps for very small groups but rarely appropriate for large group classes or for attracting beginners who. rightly or wrongly. as well as insurance liability for paying customers coming to your residence. Also. or using noisy ﬁtness machines while you are trying to teach. They quickly realise how hard it is to keep up if they miss class frequently and give up and drop out. is a very traditional way of giving lessons. as there is often no fresh air. My wife used to take a very dim view of what my broadsword did to the ceiling of my training room while I was learning and teaching that weapon. coming and going. or snowy weather—so I can hardly complain when my students don’t! In my experience. it can be hard to schedule a suitable space for a bagua class. but then soon discover that they must attend last-minute meetings. and a broken table lamp is good for several hours of hot tongue and cold shoulder. but weather is often a factor that can severely limit outside training time in many parts of the world for month after dreary month. For a woman instructor. Church halls or community centres are sometimes affordable and/or available on weekends free of charge if you are teaching on a not-for-proﬁt basis. Teaching out of your home also makes it harder to attract female students who understandably may be reluctant to come to a man’s residence and possibly be alone with a stranger. if you try to get a study group going where you work but there is no ﬁtness centre available there. is very difﬁcult to teach or learn when students miss a lot of classes. catering to them slows the learning and frustrates those who make the effort to come to class regularly.
and very few will bother to make the necessary effort or will ﬁnd that they don’t enjoy the training and will go elsewhere to ﬁnd other disciplines that suit their physique and nature better. teaching endless groups of beginners or having to do endless private classes may result in you ﬁnding that you no longer have the enthusiasm for this art you once had. More than once over the years I have read articles by fundamental Christian and Muslims denouncing the practice of bagua. Martial arts documentaries on television or movie fantasies don’t do bagua teachers any favours by showing elderly Chinese people practising bagua in the park. or you will burn out physically or emotionally from trying to earn a living. Taxes. Don’t take it personally when people drop out or seem half-hearted. I did a survey at the ﬁrst introductory bagua group class I ever taught at a community centre. only four remained at the end of ten weeks.
WHOM YOU TEACH
It is amazing how many people think that learning bagua or the internal martial arts of any kind is easy. even though each class only lasted one hour. advertising costs and ofﬁce expenses will quickly demand that you either commercialise your teaching to ensure the numbers of students necessary to support such an establishment. Most did not know it was done quickly and was physically demanding. I am not trying to be discouraging. as the average viewer forgets that an elderly person makes it look easy because he or she has been doing it daily for years! Conversely. mullahs and rabbis feel that their ﬂock may be tainted spiritually by doing bagua because of its connection to Buddhism and Taoism. but the slower. Studying bagua is not easy. and there was only one class per week. Sometimes it is not the one with lots of aptitude who seems so enthusiastic in the ﬁrst few classes. or. qigong.124
least. and that they don’t have to bring any physical abilities or enthusiasm to their classes in order to make progress. It will take you some time to develop your own rhythm and style as a teacher of this discipline. duller student who goes the distance and ends up learning something of real value. By the way.
. be prepared ﬁnancially to live off your cash reserves (if you have any left after paying for premises and renovations) for at least one year. and continue their training. And that is okay too. and improve. a surprising number of priests. but you cannot appreciate being a teacher until you have done it with some dedication and suffered some of the arrows that come with trying to do so as a supplement to your income or as its sole source. and only three of more then ten in attendance on the ﬁrst night were used to regular physical activity or had ever seen bagua done at any level. you will have to rent out space at your school to those teaching other complimentary disciplines (yoga. As to starting your own school from scratch. as is often the case. For example. I have also learned the hard way that it is more difﬁcult than it seems to guess correctly which of the beginners will persevere. and most will either coast or drop out. taiji. ministers. A few students along the way will blossom. dance. other martial arts) to supplement your income. and qigong as being somehow the tools of Satan. Not surprisingly.
You have to play it by ear in your dealings with them. Conversely. Unfortunately. This is much rarer than it used be.
Most people who watch a bagua class will know nothing or next to nothing about competency in it or the related internal disciplines. you have to be ready to make some kind of demonstration of skill on occasion. physical challenge to martial ability. even for the simpler health-oriented methods. rather than teach them methods that may worsen their lives. This usually meant a subtle. By the way.… Some of the experienced practitioners you meet or who observe your class will be coldly polite. On several occasions such people have come and watched critically. It has happened to me three times in nineteen years of teaching and. As a French Canadian. However. win or lose. weight lifters or modern hard style martial artists unless you can get them to give it a real try and convince them that bagua can be a useful supplement to other training—and not a replacement.TEACHING AND ETHICS
In some ways. It is important to be honest and sometimes blunt with beginners—you are not a miracle or counselling service and. some aloof. So. asked pointed questions. but mustn’t cater to them so much that it is unfair to the others without such limitations. you will occasionally face hostile observers—particularly those who are adherents of other teachers. both good and bad. or have challenged me physically. in the old days it was common enough for teachers to send a senior student to test the waters with a new teacher in the area. or not so subtle. it is very difﬁcult to sell the value of standing still and circular movement to aerobics fanatic. Especially if you are advertising yourself as a martial arts instructor. if I took my son to a hockey school in which the coach was Chinese and could barely speak French or English. some people are not up to the challenge physically if they are badly out of shape or have acute or chronic medical conditions.
. Qigong and the Chinese internal systems tend to attract people with severe problems of one sort or another. be prepared! I must admit that I can understand the thought processes behind this even though they are galling. as many Chinese instructors and would-be students will assume that you can not be any good just because you are not Chinese. some friendly. You must also come to terms with racism. teaching at noon-hour in a ﬁtness centre is more likely to attract those used to regular exercise as well as those looking for stress reduction. and many of them either want miracles from you or are unable to cope with the physical movements. you have to be careful and considerate of people with special physical needs. many non-Chinese will also make the same judgment. but feeling that there is nothing of value elsewhere is another. However. made snide comments about what I was teaching. but still happens. Let me add that one of my continuing disappointments with the experienced practitioners and teachers I meet is how arrogant they all seem to be about what they are doing. I might prejudge his ability to skate and play hockey. Having pride in what you practise or teach is one thing. It is worth repeating that you should steer the acutely ill to a competent Western or qigong doctor. On a good day you will just laugh them off. on a bad day. it is not a pleasant experience. though I might well be wrong in that assumption.
I had a fellow who identiﬁed himself as a local black belt in karate call my school and ask if he could come to watch a class. and they all looked more than a little surprised. they were suddenly more friendly. as his Master also taught bagua and taiji. which is what I had hoped. many are driven to teach for all the wrong reasons and burn out as instructors.126
Speaking of such situations: years ago when I ﬁrst started teaching bagua. it is also true that bagua can be many things to many people and that helping the out-of-shape to rediscover the pleasure and beneﬁt of regular physical activity can bring almost as much satisfaction as teaching someone how to defend themselves against a variety of attacks. Sadly. The sentiment seems to be that a good teacher will happily teach anyone who wants lessons for the pure joy of instruction. I said. and asked to be led through some basics and the rest of the hour was pleasant enough. practising on my own when my visitor shows up with two young friends in tow—all three wearing their karate gi and black belts under their coats. and even fewer will have any real aptitude or drive to excel.
. They never came back and I later found out that the fellow who had hit me was teaching what they called bagua at their local karate/martial arts school. few in any group of students will bother to practise what little they learn—much less make the physical effort necessary to advance to the deeper aspects of the art. in some ways. and I did what Erle had done in my presence during his ﬁrst workshop in Ottawa some years before (but not with the same authority) and let this man hit me in the unprotected torso. or to share what little you know if you can do it for free while earning your living in a 9–to–5 job. The taxman.
FRUSTRATIONS & REWARDS
Teaching can also be counterproductive if you lower your standards in order to make a larger proﬁt. I told him that I would block the attack in an bagua-like manner without retaliating so that he would give it his best in the assumption that I would be blocking in some way. landlord. On the other hand. It is also true that in the beginning. not one of my ﬁve students showed up that evening for class! So there I was. and often as practitioners. I smiled at the impact. when his appointment rolled around. He let it ﬂy. as is often the case (another Babin’s axiom). There is quite a strong prejudice (in North America. anyway) against instructors who charge for their lessons. for your efforts. it is easier to teach for the love of it. However.… I had the sinking feeling that this was not heading in a friendly direction and decided to brass it out by inviting the one who had called me to hit me. “Sure!” And. After that demo. After introducing themselves they stood there glowering at me as I did the circular form and then asked to see some applications. Others are seduced to the Dark Side (at the risk of sounding melodramatic) and end up teaching because of the ﬁnancial rewards and ego gratiﬁcation of playing the master. and those who provide my Studio phone line have a different opinion—as does my wife—so I don’t think that there is anything wrong with charging reasonable fees for your services. Many students will not take you seriously unless they feel that they have to get their money’s worth out of you.
SECRETS OF INTERNAL KUNG-FU. despite all these caveats. However. This also tends to alienate the better students of the teacher’s main school. and learning how to use your skills in combat is part of the traditional Kung-fu.
Martial Ability (Wu-gong) refers to training and experience in external or internal martial arts. but the whole idea is very personal. as they feel abandoned and left to their own devices more and more frequently. Fighting is something natural for the human being. Each student should move at this pace. Kung-fu can be intellectualised. I do believe that teaching—whether it is on a oneto-one basis or in groups—is essential for a while in the same way that structure is essential. but in the end both may become limiting. In some classes. I am just a tool for my students to know how to teach and share the knowledge according to the student’s speciﬁcations and abilities. and go on the road many weekends or weeks per year. This can have unforeseen effects on family life—the divorce rate is high among martial arts teachers because of the long evening hours away from home and the temptations offered by groupies. May Issue. It takes more patience and hard work and less words. I would strongly advise not to intellectualise the art. and I think to myself. For example. Which brings us to the next topic—martial virtue! I will ﬁnish with the wisdom of an old-timer in the internal tradition that has remained with me since I ﬁrst read it—how true it seemed to the spirit of teaching: I see myself as a guide. some excellent teachers with thriving schools will become popular on the workshop trail—do a few. the only good reason to teach is to help you grow as a practitioner while helping your students ﬁnd a path that can bring them better physical health and greater emotional and spiritual maturity. Nowadays. 2001. Self-control is very important. This days (sic) many people think only about ﬁghting. There are other days when everything aches in my middle-aged carcass. little attention or class time is usually devoted to the dayto-day implications of these lofty aims—or. Wu-de is an often neglected aspect of modern classes in the internal arts although teachers often talk of using their qigong practice for a variety of spiritual and/or meditative purposes.TEACHING AND ETHICS
Many commercially successful masters are abusing their students ﬁnancially and earn a very good living while providing relatively little in return to them. it implies a balanced approach to incorporating physical and energetic aspects to one’s training.” This is partly
. In a way. by learning how to ﬁght we also learn the value of not ﬁghting. Ultimately. but the real practice is what is important. This is different from Martial Virtue (Wu-de). it is very hard to be patient with the obvious lack of practice or having to correct the same mistakes in the same person for the hundredth time. —Li Jian Yu.… You can practise as a group. “talk is cheap. “Why am I doing this?” However. to put it bluntly. but it is important that teacher also teaches how to avoid ﬁghting. realise how much money is to be made. which refers to a code of conduct that restrains and controls the practitioner when applying the martial abilities gained through training.
It is easy to abuse your new-found health and martial abilities and become a little too much like those who may have picked on you before your training. Honesty. to teach the valuable lesson. if you cannot respect them as individuals. Sadly.128
practical from the perspective of the average teacher. With martial skill comes responsibility—both on an ethical and legal level. You must also remember to respect those around you in your daily life and not abuse any martial skill that you do develop. on a core level. in traditional view. We often become more like those we respect than we may be willing to acknowledge. If you already feel that you know as much as him or her. Humility and Integrity. it will be very difﬁcult to understand the subtleties that often deﬁne the difference between a competent technician and a master practitioner. You must also respect your training partners in class so that you approach each session as being a learning experience. Fortunately. Sometimes a teacher must allow such students a little leeway at ﬁrst or treat them harshly when they act out. Despite this. in the same way that the average knight in the Middle Ages was as far as possible from the idealised nature of the Age of Chivalry. as a teacher. You have to be careful that you don’t copy the bad with the good over the months and years. you can still learn a great deal. Loyalty. Loyalty. many people who approach the martial arts initially do so out of fear. and their egos are tender in terms of “loss of face” or of appearing stupid. to a Chinese martial arts teacher was expected to be unconditional. this is often difﬁcult. and as a person. as egos often come into play when people train together. you must respect the art you want to learn as well as your teacher as a practitioner. Martially. May I suggest that the key concepts of martial ethics are Respect. this is largely irrelevant to whether or not there is a code of ethics in your own practice. It must have aspects of co-operation to be done safely and to the mutual beneﬁt of all concerned. and the classes and the training will be exotic and mysterious—and not just hard work with the occasional bruise or injury. It is particularly true for those younger men who approached the martial arts because they were fearful or had been victimised by bullies or criminals. Respect is not easy to achieve or maintain and. Respect is a two-way street and must be given as well as received. It is also important to remember that the martial artist was the subject of hero worship in his homeland. as the kind of person who gravitates to the active life of martial training is often the least likely to want to stand or sit quietly. It is another question how often the real experts lived up to this lofty ideal. On the other hand. and that of the teacher or style you follow. I feel that it is essential to instil values in your training that are worthy of inspection from the perspective of any good ethical system or religion. and the teacher literally assumed the role of an adoptive parent with the unques-
. There are many examples in Chinese popular ﬁction going back decades— even centuries—of Robin Hood type warrior ascetics whose kung-fu skills were as highly developed as their social conscience. a substantial proportion of beginners have some expectation that their teacher will be like the venerable chief monk on the old kung-fu television series.
you need to identify what you want from your training.TEACHING AND ETHICS
tioned obedience implied in their culture. It should not be confused with the media obsession of speaking out on every personal subject and former taboo in the name of being open. As a student. reconcile those needs with what you can realistically achieve through your training. despite being born white or black. and the student must be honest with his or her teacher and. Colorado in the mid-90s to be in Erle Montaigue’s video on Dim-mak for Paladin Press. On the other hand. the editor we were dealing with mentioned over breakfast one morning that not one of their popular authors of self-defence texts with Chinese names was actually Asian. sexual. and they may be there because the school is convenient to their home or ofﬁce or affordable. they may want to learn something supposedly good for the health that they imagine doesn’t take much effort. it is equally true that a student must at the same time remain loyal to himself and to his family or society. It is a ﬁne balancing act to remain loyal both to your own needs and to those of the person teaching you. Physical conﬂict should be a viable last resort and not your ﬁrst choice in settling disputes. Only you can know what you want from your training. For example.” Compromise and negotiation are difﬁcult skills to learn. Strange how many North American kung-fu types insist on being called by an Oriental name or title. However. essential aspects of developing self-defence skills. with him or herself ! On a simple level this can extend to the most mundane details. The average student may be taking classes because they need to ﬁll a void in their social life. and what you are willing to sacriﬁce in order to make progress. partly as a mark of distinction and partly because it will be easier for the Chinese to say than the original name. Such a concept is hard for Westerners to digest and has largely disappeared from modern schools. Some unscrupulous teachers will not hesitate to exploit unquestioning obedience for ﬁnancial. but are essential aspects of being mature—no matter what your biological age—and. and you have to remember to remain loyal to your family and friends as well and not ignore their complaints: “You are always away at class!” or “Do you have to train now. they may be looking for martial and/or performance skills. we have to take the kids out!” or “That workshop clashes with the holiday we talked about taking in the summer. perhaps the hardest of all. Loyalty is very much a double-edged sword in the sense that a practitioner is hardly liable to make the most of their training if they constantly hop from teacher to teacher. when I went to Boulder. good white practitioners will often get bestowed a Chinese name by their Chinese teachers. or if they feel no sense of connection to what is being taught and to the person teaching them. and communicate those expectations to your teacher. Oh. but still can often be found in schools with an older Chinese teacher. if you think about it. However. The teacher must be honest with the student. Honesty is an elusive quality in modern life and seems to have gone out of fashion in many ways. It is also important to realise that the teacher may have as much trouble as you do identifying what he or she wants from being an instructor. or egotistical reasons. this is different from conferring a Chinese name on yourself to sound more authentic. Some do so for the money to be made
and most people will no longer value the rare examples still to be found. and some just like to be in charge. It is very difﬁcult to become an expert if you already feel that there is little more that you can learn from anyone else! Integrity is something that has largely gone out of style in modern society. You are not likely to learn anything if you already feel that you know it all. Your friends or family will look at you incredulously because you didn’t accept a reward for its return. the loss of this kind of innocence is what keeps most instructors from fulﬁlling their real potentials as human being and as instructors. responsibility for all your actions.” Good advice for people in general. And if they didn’t. neither should have any real reason to complain. This is not to say that you should try to become some perfect or mythic ﬁgure. but just stay true to whatever value system your parents raised you with. In particular. and martial artists in particular!
. and the wording is often very similar.130
from teaching commercially. teaching should beneﬁt the students on many levels—each according to his or her capacity and needs—and not just stroke the ego of the teacher or ﬁll his pockets with money. Ideally. As long as the teacher is honest with the student. It is hard not to keep some perspective on your skills and the relative value of your training when you are periodically reminded that the sun doesn’t shine out of your nether regions. “Why are you going in circles? That looks stupid!” Beauty truly is in the eyes of the beholder. and more than a few will think you are stupid for having returned it at all.” This excellent advice occurs in every major religion I have studied. Although it has nothing to do with martial training (or does it?). Perhaps. I remember my elderly mother watching a video of a martial arts show where I and some of my students had demonstrated bagua in the mid-90s. and both are getting something from the relationship. and vice versa. those students who already have some skills may well concentrate on trying to ﬁnd the similarities between what they already think they know and with what they are presently studying. Oh. It is perhaps even more important for the teacher to remain humble despite his or her technical skills and experience. in understanding a new method or style it is often more productive to try and identify how is is different. These are all normal motives for teaching. For example. some from a desire to be in the spotlight. Human nature is human nature. Morality has no value in a consumer society whose heroes are large corporations or ﬁnancial institutions who seem to function on socially dubious or fraudulent practices. it is never too late to learn. I also like the advice the Dalai Lama gave in his speech on the subject of the millennium in the year 2000: “Follow the three R’s: Respect for self. As I have said before. respect for others. some teach from a genuine need to share whatever skills they may have. you ﬁnd a wallet with a great deal of cash and go to the effort of returning it to the owner. Humility is only problematic if you don’t have any. Start with “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. those who choose to teach baguazhang (or any martial art) have a greater burden than those who are content to follow. and in the long run. Her comment was. rather than how it is similar to what you have done before.
there would be even fewer practitioners around than there are!
. and you may eventually have to consider taking a sabbatical from teaching group classes to focus on your own training and working with one or two students as training partners for the martial methods. however. teaching is a necessary evil. Perhaps. and probably in the past.TEACHING AND ETHICS
The longer I teach. As I mentioned before. the more I understand why the best teachers currently. the more mixed feelings I have about being a bagua instructor. the longer I teach. with people’s foibles and teach them to the best of your ability all the time. it is because in the traditional approach classes were held informally in the parks or temples. Learning to be a good teacher of bagua is like anything else in life: you have to be patient. Certainly. If those were the only reasons to practise and teach bagua. Getting back momentarily to humility. teach only privately or in small groups and don’t try to make a lot of money teaching such classes. within reason. it is also important to remember that being a great martial artist is not worth a pinch of poop in the grand scheme of things. it is equally true that teaching can be a noticeable drag on your personal time and energy. and that few people will really care or remember your sterling qualities as a teacher or a person when you are gone. and students paid by their loyalty and effort more than in cash or kind.
and even the most cynical might see the common thread in entering meditative state by walking the maze or walking the circle. I have always preferred to study martial arts that have “usefulness. unfortunately. So what is the answer? I could suggest that one answer is looking for a balanced approach to your training. called rather crassly whirling dervishes by the popular Western media. Finding an approach that honestly suits your individual needs is another. if you cannot ﬁnd a good bagua teacher whose classes you can attend regularly. is very much a microcosm of life. But. It is also tempting. that it is very difﬁcult to do circle walking well on any level unless you have had well-rounded instruction from a qualiﬁed expert. when watching a demonstration of the meditative circling dances of the Suﬁ Muslims. to see the common ground that unites any of these practices on a meditative and spiritual level. then you are probably better off studying with a live teacher in any good martial discipline you can ﬁnd and practising circle walking as a moving qigong. there are rarely any easy answers or short cuts that are worth taking. or if you have tried self-instruction from videos and it has not worked for you.
. much less against one who also had some technical skills in ﬁghting. as in life.Final Words
Life is too short to spend time and effort training in something that is not as functional as it was designed to be.” However. In recent years. most modern bagua stylists I have met wouldn’t have much hope using their art for self-defence against a determined aggressor. Persevering in the study of bagua. And. In fact. The other side of the dilemma is that too much ﬁghting is hard on the body past a certain age and not necessarily good for the soul. I might also suggest. or any aspect of that discipline. to further confuse the issue. Sadly. there is no formula that will make everyone happy. it is also true that you can practise bagua circle walking for health purposes on many levels. In any case. the traditional Christian religious practice of “walking the maze” while praying has become popular again. some martial historians link the origins of circular patterns in this art to religious and meditative practices that are still used by some Taoist religious sects.
Neither are easy. Good luck with your training and with life.133
Thank you for having read through this little book. You don’t have to agree with or understand everything I wrote. but thinking about the subject in a critical manner is essential for maximizing the physical aspect of your practice on any level. I trust that at least some of what you have read will be useful to your training. and both are worth pouring your heart and soul into!
a few of the questions are starting to make sense. I still don’t have any answers. co-authored with Erle Montaigue. Erle certiﬁed me as competent to teach his approach to Baguazhang in 1994. Many years later. T’ai Chi. Sam Masich. I had been corresponding with Erle Montaigue for some time and invited him in 1990 to do a workshop in Ottawa during his ﬁrst tour of North America. I decided to abandon almost everything I had been practising and teaching to start anew from his videos and workshops on both Taijiquan and Baguazhang. and Official Karate). Both taiji texts were published by Paladin Press in the mid-1990s. One of these.paladin-press. he certiﬁed me as an instructor in 1985. Combat & Healing. For the next few years. I was sure I knew it all. In particular. Chen. wrote articles for the martial arts and taiji magazines (including Tongren. and Carol Mancuso.About the Author
I began studying Japanese and Chinese hard martial styles in the early 1970s and started learning Yang Style Taijiquan in 1975 with a succession of local instructors.
. a student of the late Lee Shiu Pak. but. As a result of that experience. Inside Kung Fu.com. Canadian Martial Arts. After ﬁve years of teaching. is still in print and available for sale at
http://www.C. Karate/Kung Fu Illustrated. and since then I have taught classes in that art. By 1980. William C. Black Belt. Liang Shouyu. Australasian Fighting Arts. Each one in their own way helped me realise that I still didn’t know as much as I had hoped and assumed. I taught my own taiji classes. and attended workshops and training camps given by such experts as the late Eric Chew. Power Taiji. thanks to Erle and the other bagua instructors who have inﬂuenced me along the way. This is my ﬁrst offering on this discipline although I have written or co-written three published books. and he very kindly shattered all illusions I had about both my level of understanding of Yang Style Taijiquan and my martial expertise. Eric Tuttle. Yang Ywing Ming. Then I met Allan Weiss.